Overview

Claw hand is a condition in which your fingers are noticeably curved or bent. This condition can affect one or more of your fingers, on one or both hands.

The condition gets its name from the curvature of the fingers, which makes the hands resemble a bear’s claw.

Claw hand can be a congenital defect (a defect present at birth) or it may be due to certain disorders or injuries.

Depending on the severity of the condition, you may have difficulty using your hands to pick up and grasp items.

What causes claw hand?

Common causes of claw hand include:

Congenital birth defect

Claw hand sometimes occurs as a defect at birth.

Nerve damage

Damage to the nerves can occur in the arm or hand from injuries or diseases. Cervical spondylosis, ulnar nerve palsy, and ulnar nerve entrapment are all conditions that can cause nerve damage leading to claw hand.

Abnormal wear of the cartilage or bone in your spine can cause compression on your nerves, which can also lead to claw hand.

Skin scarring

Claw hand can occur due to scarring of the skin on the arm or hand is the result of a burn injury.

Bacterial disease

A bacterial disease such as leprosy can cause damage to the skin and nerves. However, leprosy is extremely rare in the United States.

According to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), there are an estimated 6,500 people in the United States with leprosy. Only half of those cases cause enough symptoms to require treatment.

How is claw hand diagnosed?

Call your healthcare provider if you notice that you’re developing claw hand. You should also contact them if you have claw hand and your symptoms are getting worse, or aren’t responding to treatment.

Healthcare providers can make a diagnosis of claw hand based on the appearance of your fingers. However, they may perform tests to determine the cause and severity of the condition.

Medical history

Your healthcare provider may ask questions about your medical history to determine if a past injury or illness is causing your symptoms.

Physical examination

Your healthcare provider may ask you to bend your fingers and grasp objects, in addition to other tests, to see how much strength and flexibility you have in your fingers and hand.

Electromyography

An electromyography (EMG) test checks how well your nerves are working. To perform an EMG, your healthcare provider will insert thin needles through your skin into the muscles of your hand.

The needles connect to a machine that measures electrical impulses from your nerves when you move.

You may feel a little bit of discomfort from the small needles, but it’s usually mild. You may also have slight bruising or experience minor soreness for a few days after the test.

If the EMG test results show that you have abnormal nerve activity, your healthcare provider may run more tests to determine the cause of your nerve damage.

The tests your healthcare provider performs will depend on your medical history and any other symptoms you’re experiencing.

What are the treatment options for claw hand?

Claw hand is often treatable. With treatment, your symptoms may improve or completely disappear, depending on the cause and severity of your condition.

The type of treatment that’s best for you depends on what’s causing your symptoms.

Physical therapy

Your healthcare provider may recommend physical therapy to help you gain more flexibility in your fingers and hand. Physical therapy may consist of stretches and strengthening exercises.

Physical therapy may be the only treatment, or it may be used in combination with other treatments.

Home treatment

If the curvature of your fingers is due to an injury, resting your hand may be the only treatment you need. Your healthcare provider may also suggest that you wear a brace that keeps your wrist straight to prevent further injury.

Surgery

You may need surgery to repair damaged nerves, ligaments, or muscles that are causing your symptoms.

If your injury is due to tight skin, as is seen in people who have burn injuries, skin grafts and surgery to remove scar tissue may be necessary.

Multiple surgeries may be necessary for serious defects and for burn injuries.

Medications

Your healthcare provider may prescribe medication to treat an underlying disease that’s causing your symptoms. For example, antibiotics are a treatment for leprosy.

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