Weird childhood hand weakness
August 31, 2007 9:13 AM   Subscribe

When I was a kid, I used to have fairly significant weakness in both my hands when I woke up in the morning. Any ideas what that might have been?

I hadn't thought about it in years, but I was reminded of it recently when I witnessed a stranger hyperventilating. Her arms were tucked like chicken wings, and as she regained normal breathing, her arms relaxed at the elbow, but her hands were still slightly bent at the wrist, and her thumb was fully tucked under her palm.

THAT is exactly what used to happen to me every morning, but I was not hyperventilating. My thumbs (both) would be completely tucked toward my palms, and I couldn't move them. I mean, I could use the fingers of one hand to move the other thumb, but I couldn't move it on its own. So I couldn't make a c-shape with one hand in order to grasp and pour a box of cereal into a bowl, for example. I suppose you could call this numbness, but there was no tingling or loss of feeling. It just felt like severe weakness. Like my thumb muscles were so weak I couldn't move them.

I'd just sort of wait it out and rub my thumb and wrist with the other fingers as well as I could. Usually within 20 minutes my hands would "warm up" and relax, and the rest of the day they were fine. It happened on and off from about age 8 until 11, and has never happened since then.

I've been obsessively wondering over the past week or so what the hell that was. I figure this is a long shot, but got any ideas?
posted by peep to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I remember not being able to make a fist early in the morning as a young child. I always wondered what that was about.
posted by wsg at 9:34 AM on August 31, 2007

I remember as a child not being able to firmly clench a fist for some time after waking up each morning, and wondering why.

Now I live in NYC, so I pretty much wake up with both fists clenched every day.
posted by hermitosis at 9:34 AM on August 31, 2007 [9 favorites]

I am really interested in this. I never had it as a child, but in the last month or so, my BF and I have both been doing it. We have also been up a lot and working with our hands a lot more than normal. I have tried googling it, but its hard to articulate the events.
posted by stormygrey at 9:37 AM on August 31, 2007

I had this, too! I haven't thought about it in years. Sadly I have no helpful information.
posted by chinston at 9:38 AM on August 31, 2007

I get this when I eat too much sugar. Maybe that's a data point?
posted by eileen at 9:41 AM on August 31, 2007

I had this when I was younger as well. I did not eat much sugar at that age though.
posted by jammnrose at 9:43 AM on August 31, 2007

Response by poster: Oh, hey - I did have the fist thing, too. Even when I didn't have the thumb tuck thing, I couldn't make a fist. That actually went back much further - my first memory of that is about age 5.
posted by peep at 9:44 AM on August 31, 2007

I've only a vague recollection, but I think your brain produces a relaxant during sleep - to stop you from carrying out your dreams! - the effect takes a while to wear off... I'll see if I can find a ref
posted by Dub at 9:47 AM on August 31, 2007

I had this, too - I was unable to make a fist for awhile after waking. I could try to force it, but it would feel really weird and unpleasant. Maybe it is related to low blood sugar, or a blood-sugar crash due to fasting through the night - one of the symptoms is numbness in the extremities. It's not exactly numbness, though.
posted by granted at 9:49 AM on August 31, 2007

I get exactly what granted explained sometimes. I would call it almost a weakness rather than a numbness. I guess it's mostly in the morning, but can happen throughout the day, so I wouldn't be surprised if it's related to low blood sugar.
posted by bibbit at 9:55 AM on August 31, 2007

Sounds more like compression of a nerve due to the flexed joint during sleep - either at the elbow or the wrist. Probably the radial nerve at the wrist if it involves the thumb.
posted by Rumple at 9:56 AM on August 31, 2007

Were y'all sleeping on your hands? I just figured out that what I thought was the beginnings of carpal tunnel syndrome -- I couldn't put weight on my hands for about 20 minutes or so after getting up (this becomes obvious when one starts practicing yoga in the mornings) -- was actually just that I was sleeping with my wrists in an awkward position and my hands tucked up under my pillow, so that all night long the weight of my head was putting pressure on parts of my hands and wrists that shouldn't really have been under that much pressure.

Changing the way I sleep fixed it for me.
posted by occhiblu at 9:56 AM on August 31, 2007

I used to get morning weakness in my right hand as a kid, enough that I couldn't properly hold a pen and write for the first half hour of my day. It may have affected my left hand but I definitely noticed my right one, being the dominant hand. I always thought it was either from sleeping on my side, or because I used to grip my pen really hard and my muscles were fatigued. Really, I have no idea though.
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 9:58 AM on August 31, 2007

Yes! I don't have an answer for you, but I had this too as a child, and still have it occasionally now. Not unpleasant though - it is weird, but I think it's kind of fun. My wild guess is it's something to do with kids sleeping more deeply than adults (and I have pretty disordered sleep now, so I sometimes sleep deeply and sometimes not). I don't think it's to do with eating too much sugar, I didn't eat much sugar as a kid, and when I get this now it doesn't follow that pattern.
posted by crabintheocean at 9:59 AM on August 31, 2007

you were probably impinging a nerve. did you tend to sleep with your elbows bent? or with your arms crossed under your head?
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:21 AM on August 31, 2007

Whoa. This is totally resonating with me. As an adult, I often wake up with my elbows tucked above my hip bones, my hands at chest level, with my wrists bent sharply downward. And my hands/wrists are weaker upon wakening. I don't remember if I slept this way as a child or not.

This kind of freaked me out when the Schiavo case was all over the news and Terri Schiavo was often portrayed with her hands/arms in this same position. Ergh.
posted by jeanmari at 10:31 AM on August 31, 2007

Nthing the sleeping with your arms bent -- that's the classic fetal position, and it can impinge on the nerves in the carpal or cubital tunnels. I used to have a lot of cubital tunnel problems when I slept with my arms all folded up as you describe (bent at elbow and wrist, thumb tucked under). It caused weakness, numbness, and/or tingling -- sometimes bad enough to wake me up, but always bad enough that I noticed it in the morning.
posted by katemonster at 10:32 AM on August 31, 2007

I had this when I was a kid too. I didn't eat a lot of sugar or sleep in strange positions. It was just a not-quite-awake yet remnant.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:34 AM on August 31, 2007

I had this too!! I thought it was because my "muscles" needed to to wake up and get the blood flowing more "completely" after it had slowed for my slumber... but that was just a theory..
posted by crewshell at 10:50 AM on August 31, 2007

I'd totally forgotten about this until you mentioned it! I know clearly remember being unable to make a fist first thing in the morning as a child. My hands were also somewhat weak for the first 30 minutes or so after waking. I, too, think the arms bent sleeping position is the key; I used to sleep that way all the time, and in recent months have been having cubital tunnel problems, and something -condylitis with my ulnar nerve. Part of the cause, my doctor told me, is sleeping with my arms folded and tucked under the pillow.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:58 AM on August 31, 2007

Joining the masses to say I remember this too, and hadn't thought about it in years until I saw this post! I remember being freaked out about my inability to make a fist...

It could have been a pinched nerve thing due to sleeping position, as some have suggested, but if so I experienced that phenomenon differently than I do now. I distinctly remember that the feeling was similar to the weakness that happens when your hand falls asleep, but was unaccompanied by numbness or tingling more often than not.

This is fascinating. Thanks for posting this, Peep!
posted by hilatron at 11:36 AM on August 31, 2007

Count me as another who had this experience as a child.
posted by malaprohibita at 11:38 AM on August 31, 2007

This thread on the ABC forums was the best thing I could find.

I get this every morning. I do think it as more to do with constriction than anything.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:57 AM on August 31, 2007

I got this as a child all the time. Haven't thought about it in years. Rather than wonder what it was about back then, I'm going to use this a bit more constructively -- I'm going to watch for signs that my children have the same issue, and go from there (at the very least, not ask them to pick anything up or hold anything right away.)
posted by davejay at 1:02 PM on August 31, 2007

thinking about it for a few minutes, it felt exactly as it would if I were clenching my hands into fists for an extended period of time, so that the muscles were exhausted. note to self: check kids for fist-clenching at night
posted by davejay at 1:03 PM on August 31, 2007

Response by poster: Weird - it seems a lot of people had this same thing, and to me the "no tingling" is key, which is why I'm just not sure it's the sleeping position. I occasionally sleep weird and wake up with dead arm, but that is clearly different and has the definite pins and needles feeling. And I slept in the fetal position while pregnant (due to lack of other options) and never got weak thumb. I'm still hoping an expert will chime in with the magic answer. Thanks to everyone so far!
posted by peep at 2:02 PM on August 31, 2007

The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced: it's simple muscle fatigue.

Get on the floor and do push-ups until you're exhausted, so that you can't do any more no matter how hard you try. The feeling you will have in your arms is exactly what I used to feel in my hands. If I were clenching 'em for hours overnight as I slept, I'd expect the muscles to be similarly fatigued.
posted by davejay at 3:21 PM on August 31, 2007

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome is due to the compression of the ulnar nerve (pinky side). However, the manual says it can lead to grasping issues with the thumb / index finger as well due to general weakness.
posted by aliasless at 8:22 PM on August 31, 2007

What I experienced was definitely NOT muscle fatigue.
posted by wsg at 10:48 AM on September 1, 2007

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