Hand weakness can stem from a variety of conditions, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, peripheral neuropathy, and ganglion cysts.
A weakened hand or grip can make everyday tasks much more difficult to complete.
In this article, we discuss some causes of hand weakness, the accompanying symptoms, and the treatment options available.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), ganglion cysts are the most frequently forming lump in the hand. They often appear on the back of a person’s wrist.
Although harmless, ganglion cysts can sometimes put pressure on the nerves, which can cause muscle weakness, tingling, and pain. Most of the time, these lumps are only a cosmetic issue, and they rarely cause sensory changes or weakness.
Ganglion cysts do not typically require treatment. However, if the cyst is causing pain, a person can receive the following types of treatment:
- Immobilization: Activity can cause the cyst to increase in size, putting more pressure on the nerves. A wrist brace may help relieve the symptoms.
- Aspiration: This procedure involves removing the fluid from the cyst. It is an option if the cyst is causing severe pain or limits activity.
- Excision: A surgeon may remove the cyst if nonsurgical methods are ineffective.
A person may also take over-the-counter pain medication if the cyst is causing discomfort.
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the carpal tunnel, which is a passageway in the wrist, or the tissues surrounding the flexor tendons swell. This in turn puts pressure on the median nerve.
This pressure can result in pain, tingling, and numbness in the hand.
According to the AAOS, carpal tunnel syndrome may occur due to different factors, such as repetitive hand use, pregnancy, and some health conditions.
Alongside hand weakness, other symptoms include:
- numbness, tingling, pain, and burning in the fingers
- shock-like sensations radiating to the fingers
- pain and tingling that travel up the forearm
A person may also find that they are dropping things due to hand weakness and numbness. This is a late-stage effect of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Usually, the tingling and pain are present for a long time and may become severe before weakness develops.
Treatment options for carpal tunnel may include:
- pain relief and anti-inflammatory medications
- changes in activity
- steroid injection
Cubital tunnel syndrome occurs when the ulnar nerve, which passes through the inside of the elbow, becomes irritated, inflamed, swollen, or compressed.
Although cubital tunnel syndrome may cause pain in the elbow, most of the symptoms occur in the hand.
Symptoms may include:
- pain in the hand
- numbness in the hand or ring finger that worsens when the elbow bends
- weakened hand grip
- difficulty coordinating the fingers
- pain inside the elbow
According to the AAOS, treatment options include:
- anti-inflammatory medication
- splints or braces
- nerve gliding exercises
Epicondylitis occurs due to damage to the tendons in the forearm. There are two types of epicondylitis: lateral and medial.
Medial epicondylitis, otherwise known as golfer’s elbow, occurs due to damage to the tendons that bend the wrist toward the palm.
Lateral epicondylitis, also known as tennis elbow, occurs due to damage to the tendons that bend the wrist away from the palm.
Some causes include playing tennis, carrying heavy objects, and frequently using hand tools.
Symptoms of epicondylitis include:
- pain on the inner part of the forearm that runs from the elbow to the wrist
- weakness in the wrist and hand
- weakened hand grip
- pain when squeezing a ball or moving the hand toward the pinky finger
Treatment starts with stopping the activity that caused the condition in the first place and avoiding activities that aggravate the condition.
Treatment options include:
- bracing the area
- icing the affected arm or hand
- using anti-inflammatory medication
- doing exercises to strengthen the forearm
- using corticosteroid injections
A pinched nerve, or cervical radiculopathy, occurs when something presses against and irritates a nerve located in the neck.
This may stem from changes that occur in the spine as a person ages. It can also occur due to sudden injury that results in a herniated disk.
The pain typically originates in the neck and travels down a person’s arm.
Other symptoms include:
- tingling in the hand and fingers
- hand, muscle, or shoulder weakness
- diminished sensation
Treatment for a pinched nerve includes:
- a soft vertical collar, which is a padded ring that wraps around the neck
- physical therapy
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen
- oral corticosteroids
- steroid injection
- surgery if nonsurgical methods do not bring results
Common symptoms of arthritis may include:
- warmth around the affected joint
- grating or grinding sensations in the joint
- decreased range of motion around the affected joint
A person should contact their doctor about the best treatment options for them.
A doctor will determine the best treatment based on a person’s individual circumstances.
Treatment options may include:
- medications, such as anti-inflammatories
- surgery to repair damage or replace joints
Sarcopenia is the loss of muscle mass. The condition causes weakness and loss of muscle functions, including strength in the hands. It can occur naturally as a person ages.
Other symptoms can include:
- poor balance
- difficulty climbing stairs
- loss of endurance
- a decrease in muscle size
Treatment options focus on preventing and managing the condition through physical activity, such as resistance training. This can help improve strength and reduce muscle loss.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), peripheral neuropathy
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Neuropathy that can affect the hands includes:
- Motor nerve damage: This can cause muscle weakness, painful cramps, muscle twitching, and muscle shrinking.
- Sensory nerve damage: A loss of sensation in the hands or other parts of the body can make it difficult to perform daily activities, such as fastening a button.
If a doctor determines a person has peripheral neuropathy, they will recommend the person continue to treat the underlying condition. A person needs to follow all of the doctor’s recommendations and let them know if the treatment is not working.
To treat peripheral neuropathy directly, a doctor may recommend braces and splints, as well as pain relief medication.
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There is currently no cure for MS. However, treatment typically involves medications and physical therapy.
A stroke occurs as a result of a decrease or blockage in the brain’s blood supply or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts.
Strokes can cause numbness or weakness in the arm, face, or leg, particularly on one side of the body.
Other symptoms of a stroke include:
- difficulty seeing
- difficulty walking
- sudden and severe headache
The treatment for a stroke depends on the type of stroke a person has experienced.
A person should seek emergency medical attention if they notice any symptoms of a stroke.
A person should consult their doctor if they have sudden weakness in one or both hands.
They should also contact a doctor if the treatment they are currently using is not working. A doctor may help determine a better course of treatment.
A doctor will need to perform a physical examination of the person and discuss their symptoms. They will also ask about other symptoms the person has experienced.
During the examination, the doctor may test a person’s strength and pain level.
If needed, the doctor may order additional imaging tests to look at the joints. This may include an X-ray or MRI scan. A doctor can use this to diagnose conditions such as arthritis and assess the amount of damage to the joints.
Hand weakness can result from several different conditions, including a ganglion cyst, carpal tunnel syndrome, and cubital tunnel syndrome.
It can also be a part of many different health conditions that cause neuropathy.
A person will likely experience other symptoms, such as pain, swelling, or limited mobility of the hand or fingers.
A person should contact their doctor about all the symptoms they experience. A doctor can diagnose the issue and recommend treatments based on the underlying condition causing the weakness.