Hand atrophy is a condition that causes muscles of the hand deteriorate and wither away. Also called muscle wasting, hand atrophy leads the muscles to begin to lose their bulk and strength. This in turn may cause a general decrease in the ability of the hand to move.
When the hand is immobile for an extended period of time, the muscles begin to lose power and size. These symptoms are indicative of hand atrophy. The condition is common when a fracture of the hand or wrist requires casting. Joint problems, such as arthritis, in which normal movements become painful can also bring about hand atrophy.
In addition to generalized weakness with visible shrinking of the muscles, hand atrophy can produce a distorted appearance of the hand and fingers. The condition called "claw hand" is a product of longstanding atrophy. Characterized by a compression of the hand with an exaggerated extension of the knuckles and bending of the fingers, claw hand can severely limit the overall use of the hand. This altered positioning of the hand is commonly seen with conditions that cause progressive muscular atrophy.
A wasting away of muscles can also happen if there is a problem in the nerves. Nerves transmit signals which trigger muscles to contract or tighten. Nerve impairment can be the result of an injury or disease process. Diabetes, for example, can bring about nerve damage. This condition, which causes the nerves to become injured by exposure to excessively high blood sugar, is called diabetes neuropathy.
Health conditions such as Gullain-Barre and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS can trigger the deterioration of muscles all over the body, including the hand. Thought to be caused by a virus, Gullain-Barre syndrome strikes the nerves bringing about pain symptoms, and in extreme cases, paralysis. This loss of movement increases the risk of a reduction in muscle tone or atrophy, especially in the hand.
ALS, commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig disease, is a progressive condition producing widespread muscle deterioration which eventually spreads to include hand atrophy. This disease kills the nerves which control the contraction or movement of muscles throughout the body. When enough nerve cells are destroyed the entire body loses the ability to function.
Treatment of hand atrophy involves addressing its root cause and the resulting weakness or deformity. Performing a general range of motion and exercise program can increase overall hand movement and strength. Splints, commonly used when at rest, can aid in limiting the severity of hand distortion by slowly stretching the hand back to a more normal position.