Why Can’t I Grasp? Diagnosing & Treating “Ape Hand”

Ape hand – though very insensitively named – is a medical condition in which motor movements of the thumb are severely limited. The result is a grasping movement that is somewhat similar to those of apes rather than humans. Some people refer to this as a locked or stuck thumb – but unfortunately the actual name is actually “ape hand”.

When the thumb is no longer capable of pinching against a finger (a motion known as a pincer grasp), the hands muscles become subject to atrophy. This inability to oppose one’s thumb is said by some to resemble an ape’s hand. Not only profoundly rude, this comparison is also completely inaccurate since apes, like humans, have opposable thumbs. Nonetheless, the so-called “ape hand” is a frustrating condition that sends many Oakland County men and women to a hand specialist.

In this article board certified Oakland County hand specialist Dr. Uzma Rehman discusses the symptoms and treatment of “ape hand”.

Signs & Symptoms of Ape Hand

Cases of ape hand treated by Oakland County hand specialist Dr. Rehman are often marked by the thumb’s limited ability to flex and extend. This significantly limits the patient’s range of motion, as the thumb is capable only of moving towards or away from the plane of the hand’s palm.

Patients also complain that this condition also severely limits – or even completely impedes – their ability to oppose the thumb in a grasping action. When patients have lost the ability to move their thumb in and out of the palm, it leaves them incapable of performing pinching or grasping motions.

Causes of Ape Hand

Most cases of ape hand treated by Oakland County hand specialist Dr. Rehman are the byproduct of a medical condition called median nerve palsy. Median nerve palsy usually occurs when the wrist or forearm is subject to a deep injury, that impairs the thenar muscles’ ability to function.

Damage to the thenar muscles can be serious, and may require the care of a hand specialist. Since the thenar muscles are responsible for the thumb’s precision pinching and power gripping, damage to them is one of the leading causes of ape hand.

Similarly, the median nerve begins near the shoulder and stretches the length of the arm, running through the forearm before passing through the carpal tunnel into the hand. Not only does the median nerve provide the forearm with motor function, it is also responsible for the sensory and motor function of the wrist and hand. Median nerve palsy can have serious consequences. If you suspect you have sustained an injury that has led to median nerve palsy, contact Oakland County hand specialist Dr. Rehman immediately.

Treating Ape Hand

Depending on the severity of the abnormality, anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroid injections may be used to help alleviate Ape Hand and restore motion and grasping in the thumb. However, in more severe case, surgery may be prescribed by board certified Oakland County hand surgeon Dr. Rehman.

Occupational therapy and/or physiotherapy by our certified hand therapist can also help alleviate the condition. In many cases dynamic splinting by our hand specialists –  which pulls the thumb in opposition – may prevent the condition from worsening.

Ape Hand vs. Claw Hand

While ape hand and claw hand may each require the treatment of a hand specialist, the two conditions -despite similarities- are unique from one another. Ape hand is marked by the thumb having a limited range of motion. If the patient puts the hand on the table with the palm upward and the thumb can not point to the sky, it may be Ape Hand. Claw hand, however, is a condition wherein the fingers are noticeably bent or curved. Claw hand can make the action of grasping or picking objects up particularly difficult, and is capable of affecting one or more fingers on either one hand or both.

There are also number of other hand conditions similar to or associated with ape hand, including  carpal tunnel syndrome, De Quervain’s tendinosis, and trigger finger. So it is extremely important to have your hand examined by a hand specialist like Dr. Rehman for a correct diagnosis and proper treatment.

Oakland County Hand Specialist

While ape hand is one result of trauma or compression to one’s median nerve, it serves as only one of many. Whether your fingers, forearms, or wrists are experiencing pain, schedule a consultation with Oakland County hand specialist Dr. Uzma Rehman. She will assess your condition and determine if your discomfort is caused by ape hand, carpal tunnel, or another condition altogether.

Based on her diagnosis, she will design a treatment plan customized to both relieve discomfort and limit the risk of future damage. Call today.

Oakland County Hand Specialist: 248.940.5233