Happy hands

Our hands often give the first clue to our general state of health – so what should you be looking for?

Hands take one helluva beating this time of year. For starters, it’s cold and damp and our hands are exposed to extremes of temperature. It’s also the festive season which means even more wear and tear than usual as we all battle with the chores of shopping trips, putting up the Christmas tree and decorations and endless wrapping of presents.

Our hands are one of the most complex areas of the body, each with 29 bones and joints, 34 muscles, and more than100 ligaments. They are also one of the first to give clues to our general state of health. Here’s our ‘handy’ guide of what to look for…


Cold hands, warm heart so the saying goes. But chilly palms and digits are usually a sign of poor circulation, low blood pressure or an under-active thyroid.


Reddening of the palms, known as palmar erythema, is one of the classic signs of liver damage. They can also be a sign of rheumatoid arthritis. Hot, sweaty palms can be caused by an overactive thyroid, or by too much alcohol or stress. Thickening palms can be a symptom of Dupuytren’s contracture, when the tendons of the fingers in the palm thicken, resulting in the finger curling into the palm.


Everyone’s hands shake, it’s just a matter of how much. At the lower end of the spectrum, trembling hands can be a sign of anxiety and stress or drinking too much alcohol or having too much caffeine from too many cups of strong coffee. More pronounced shaking could be a sign of something more worrying such as Parkinson’s disease or an over-active thyroid.


As we get older the backs of our hands usually develop brown marks known as age or liver spots. These are most usually caused by excessive pigmentation due to over-exposure to UV rays of the sun.


Fingers that turn white, blue and then red with pins and needles and numbness are a sign of Raynaud’s disease, a condition which often runs in families and in which blood flow to the fingers is restricted. Problems with fingers can also be associated with various rheumatic conditions. Hard bony lumps around the finger joints – often referred to as Heberden’s nodes – are a common sign of osteoarthritis. They are more common in women than men and are often found in manual workers and people who use their hands a lot, such as keyboard operators or typists.


Very dry skin on the hands can be a sign of an under-active thyroid – a particular problem for women as they get older, or after the menopause when skin tends to dry out as levels of oestrogen drop. It could also be a sign of essential fatty acid deficiency caused by not eating enough oily fish or nuts and seeds.

For early diagnosis and treatment of hand and wrist problems, contact the specialists at Spire Little Aston Hospital, 0121 580 7119.