Spasms of the hands or feet

Alternative names
Foot spasms; Carpopedal spasm; Hand or foot spasms

Definition
Spasms are contractions of the hands, thumbs, feet, or toes that are sometimes seen with muscle cramps, twitching, and convulsions (tetany). They can be severe and painful.

Considerations

Spasms of the hands or feet may be an important early sign of tetany, a potentially life-threatening condition. Tetany is a manifestation of an abnormality in calcium level, which can be linked to the following:

     
  • Lack of vitamin D  
  • Lessened function of the parathyroid glands (hypoparathyroidism)  
  • Alkalosis in the body  
  • Ingestion of alkaline salts

These spasms are usually accompanied by the following symptoms:

     
  • Numbness, tingling, or a “pins-and-needles” feeling  
  • Muscle weakness  
  • Fatigue  
  • Cramping  
  • Twitching  
  • Uncontrolled, purposeless, rapid motions

Common Causes

     
  • Muscle cramps, usually caused by sports or occupational muscle injury  
  • Parkinson’s disease and other neuromuscular conditions  
  • Hypocalcemia       o Causes diffuse, recurrent, or severe muscle cramping       o Severe hypocalcemia can produce convulsions.  
  • Hyperventilation - calcium becomes temporarily unavailable to the body during hyperventilation  
  • Damage to a single nerve or nerve group (mononeuropathy) or multiple nerves (polyneuropathy)  
  • Multiple sclerosis  
  • Various medications

Home Care
If vitamin D deficiency is the cause, supplemental vitamin D should be taken under the doctor’s direction. Calcium supplements may also help.

Call your health care provider if

If you notice recurrent spasms of your hands or feet, call your health care provider.

What to expect at your health care provider’s office

Your provider will obtain your medical history and will perform a physical examination. Laboratory testing of blood and urine may also be done.

Medical history questions documenting hand or foot spasms in detail may include the following:

     
  • Do the spasms appear to be involuntary or purposeless?  
  • Are they prolonged?  
  • At what age did the spasms first appear?  
  • Does the presence of spasms seem variable over weeks to months?  
  • Do spasms occur repeatedly (recurrent)?  
  • Do several spasms occur in a row (repetitive)?  
  • Are the spasms slow or rapid?  
  • Can the spasms be voluntarily suppressed?  
  • How long have you had spasms?  
  • Is it worse when you exercise?  
  • How much calcium-containing food do you eat (such as milk products)?  
  • What have you done to try to treat the spasms? How effective was it?  
  • What other symptoms are also present?       o Do you have numbness or a “pins-and-needles” feeling?       o Do you have muscle weakness?       o Do you have fatigue?       o Do you have muscle cramps elsewhere?       o Do you have seizures?

Diagnostic tests may include the following:

     
  • Calcium levels (serum calcium)  
  • Hormone levels  
  • Renal function tests  
  • Vitamin D levels (25-OH vitamin D)

 

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 2, 2012
by Arthur A. Poghosian, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.