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Hand or foot spasms

Alternative names

Foot spasms; Carpopedal spasm; Spasms of the hands or feet


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.


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
    • Causes diffuse, recurrent, or severe muscle cramping
    • Severe hypocalcemia can produce convulsions .
  • Hyperventilation . Calcium becomes temporarily unavailable to the body during hyperventilation.

Home Care

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

Call your health care provider if

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

Your health care 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:

  • Type
    • Do the spasms appear to be involuntary or purposeless?
    • Are they prolonged?
  • Time pattern
    • 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?
  • Aggravating factors : Is it worse when you exercise?
  • Diet: How much calcium-containing food do you eat (such as milk products)?
  • Relieving factors
    • What have you done to try to treat the spasms?
    • How effective was it?
  • What other symptoms are also present?
    • Do you have numbness or a "pins-and-needles" feeling?
    • Do you have muscle weakness ?
    • Do you have fatigue ?
    • Do you have muscle cramps elsewhere?
    • 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 )

Update Date: 11/14/2002

Elaine T. Kiriakopoulos, M.D., M.Sc., Department of Neurology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard University, Boston, MA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT