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Shaky Hands: Exploring Types, Causes and Treatment | Max Hospital

Shaky Hands: Types, Causes and Treatment

By Dr. Sahil Kohli in Neurosurgery , Neurosciences , Neurology

Mar 18 , 2024 | 11 min read

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“Mum, why are your hands shaking? Is it some sort of deficiency or tremors? Let us go visit the doctor” - I heard my friend saying to her mother. On visiting Dr. ______, they were presented with the actual facts. A lot of individuals above 60 years can be seen to have shaky hands/tremors. Medically known as hand tremors, shaky hands refer to involuntary shaking of the hands, causing difficulties in performing everyday tasks and potentially impacting the overall quality of life of affected individuals. Let’s delve deeper to understand the causes, types, and treatments for the disorder. 

Types of Shaky Hands

Shaky hands, or hand tremors, can manifest in different types, and the classification often depends on the specific characteristics of the tremor and its underlying cause. Here are some common types of shaky hands:

  • Essential tremor: Essential tremor is the most common type of tremor and is often hereditary. Essential tremor most commonly affects the hands, but it can also involve the head, voice, or other body parts.
  • Resting tremor: Resting tremor occurs when the affected body part is at rest and not engaged in purposeful movement. This type of tremor is often associated with Parkinson's disease, and it may decrease or disappear during voluntary movement.
  • Postural tremor: Postural tremor occurs when maintaining a specific posture against gravity. For example, holding the arms outstretched or maintaining a certain position may trigger the tremor. It is common in essential tremor and can also be seen in other conditions.
  • Kinetic or action tremor: Kinetic tremor occurs during voluntary movements, such as reaching for an object or writing. It can be seen in essential tremor and other neurological conditions, and its severity may increase with the complexity of the movement.
  • Intention tremor: Intention tremor is a type of kinetic tremor that occurs as a person approaches a target, such as touching a finger to the nose. It is often associated with damage to the cerebellum, a part of the brain that plays a role in coordinating movements.
  • Task-Specific tremor: Task-specific tremor is a tremor that occurs during specific activities or tasks. For example, some individuals may experience tremors only when attempting precise activities such as threading a needle or playing a musical instrument.
  • Psychogenic tremor: Psychogenic tremor is thought to have a psychological origin. It may be triggered or worsened by emotional factors, stress, or psychological distress. The characteristics of psychogenic tremor can vary and may not fit neatly into other defined categories.
  • Enhanced physiologic tremor: Enhanced physiologic tremor is a benign tremor that can occur in response to various factors such as fatigue, caffeine intake, or certain medications. It is generally more noticeable during certain activities and may not be present at rest.

It's important to note that these types of shaky hands are not mutually exclusive, and an individual may experience a combination of tremor types.

Causes of Shaky Hands

Shaky hands can be caused by various factors, and it's essential to identify the underlying cause for appropriate treatment. Here are some common causes of shaky hands:

  • Anxiety and stress: Anxiety and stress can manifest physically, and one common symptom is trembling or shaky hands. The body's natural response to stress includes the release of adrenaline, which can lead to increased muscle tension and trembling. 
  • Parkinson's disease: Parkinson's disease is a progressive neurological disorder that affects movement. Tremors, along with other motor symptoms such as stiffness and bradykinesia (slowness of movement), are characteristic of Parkinson's disease. 
  • Medication side-effects: Some medications, especially those that affect the central nervous system, can cause tremors as a side effect. Examples include certain antidepressants, antipsychotics, and drugs used to treat asthma.
  • Caffeine and stimulants: Excessive consumption of caffeine or other stimulants can lead to shaky hands. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system and can increase hand tremors, especially in sensitive individuals.
  • Alcohol withdrawal: Shaky hands can be a symptom of alcohol withdrawal. Individuals who are alcohol-dependent may experience tremors when they reduce or stop their alcohol intake suddenly.
  • Hyperthyroidism: An overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) can lead to shaky hands. The thyroid hormones play a role in regulating metabolism, and an excess can result in increased physiological activity, including tremors.
  • Neurological disorders: Various neurological conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or stroke, can lead to tremors. These tremors may be associated with other neurological symptoms depending on the underlying disorder.
  • Hypoglycemia: Low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia) can cause shaky hands. This is often seen in individuals with diabetes who take medications that lower blood sugar levels.
  • Huntington's disease: Huntington's disease is a genetic disorder that leads to progressive cognitive and motor decline, which is often accompanied by hand tremors or shaky hands.
  • Traumatic Brain Injury: Head injuries causing damage to the brain may lead to hand tremors, among other neurological symptoms.

Diagnosing the Underlying Condition

The diagnosis of shaky hands involves a thorough evaluation by a healthcare practitioner to identify the underlying cause and determine an appropriate course of action. The diagnostic process typically includes the following steps:

  1. Medical history and physical examination: The healthcare provider will begin by taking a detailed medical history, including information about the onset of symptoms, their frequency, and any associated factors. A physical examination will also be conducted to assess overall health and identify any neurological signs.
  2. Neurological examination: A specific neurological examination will be performed to assess the nature and characteristics of the tremor. This may involve testing different movements, such as holding the arms outstretched, touching the nose, or performing other coordinated tasks.
  3. Review of medications and substances: The healthcare provider will review the patient's current medications and inquire about the use of substances like caffeine or stimulants, as certain medications and substances can contribute to hand tremors.
  4. Blood tests: Certain blood tests may be conducted to check for underlying medical conditions such as thyroid disorders or metabolic imbalances that could be causing the tremors.
  5. Imaging studies: In some cases, imaging studies such as MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) or CT (Computed Tomography) scans may be ordered to rule out structural abnormalities in the brain or other parts of the nervous system.
  6. Electrophysiological testing: Electrophysiological tests, such as electromyography and nerve conduction studies, may be performed to assess the electrical activity of muscles and nerves to identify underlying nerve or muscle abnormalities.
  7. Specialized neurological testing: Depending on the suspected cause of the tremor, additional specialized tests may be conducted. For example, a dopamine transporter (DaT) scan may be ordered if Parkinson's disease is suspected.
  8. Evaluation for psychogenic tremor: In cases where a psychogenic tremor is suspected, a psychological evaluation may be recommended to assess emotional and psychological factors that could be contributing to the symptoms.

Once a diagnosis is established, the healthcare provider can discuss appropriate treatment options and develop a management plan tailored to the underlying cause of the shaky hands. 

Treatment and Management of Shaky Hands

The treatment and management of shaky hands, or hand tremors, depend on the underlying cause and the impact of the tremors on daily life. Here are some general approaches and strategies:

Medical Treatment

  • Medications: Depending on the type of tremor and its underlying cause, medications may be prescribed. For instance, beta-blockers (such as propranolol) and anticonvulsants (such as primidone) could be prescribed for essential tremor, whereas medications such as levodopa may be prescribed to individuals having Parkinson's disease. 
  • Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS): Deep Brain Stimulation may be prescribed to patients who do not respond to the first line of treatment. Theneurosurgeon will implant electrodes in the brain that can help in reducing the intensity of tremors.
  • Botulinum toxin injections: In some cases, injections of botulinum toxin (Botox) may be used to temporarily alleviate hand tremors, particularly in focal hand dystonia or essential tremor.
  • Adjustment of medications: If the tremors are found to be a side effect of certain medications, adjusting the dosage or switching to an alternative medication may be considered.

Physical Therapy:

Physical therapy can be a valuable component of the management and treatment of shaky hands, especially when the tremors are impacting daily activities and quality of life. A physical therapist (PT) can work with individuals to improve coordination, strength, and range of motion, ultimately helping to reduce the impact of hand tremors. Commonly recommended physical therapies for shaky hands include: 

  • Range of motion exercises: Range of motion exercises for shaky hands involve gentle stretching movements for the fingers, hands, and wrists. These exercises aim to improve flexibility, reduce stiffness, and enhance overall hand function.
  • Strength training: To minimize the impact of tremors on day-to-day activities, patients may be prescribed strength training, targeting the muscles of the hands, wrists, and forearms, and resistance training and isometric exercises build stability and control.
  • Coordination and control exercises: These exercises focus on improving fine motor skills and precision during tasks, such as picking up small objects or practicing hand-eye coordination, ultimately enhancing functional abilities despite hand tremors.
  • Task-specific training: Physical therapists guide individuals through task-specific training, adapting daily activities to improve function despite hand tremors. This may involve practicing activities like writing, typing, or using utensils with adaptive techniques.
  • Balance and posture training: To enhance overall stability and reduce the impact of tremors on posture, physical therapy includes exercises that may involve standing or sitting on an unstable surface. Postural exercises promote optimal alignment.
  • Biofeedback: Utilizing biofeedback, physical therapy provides real-time information about muscle activity, assisting individuals in improving control. Biofeedback devices monitor muscle engagement during specific exercises, offering visual or auditory cues.

Lifestyle Modifications

  • Avoiding triggers: Identifying and avoiding triggers such as excessive caffeine, stimulants, or stressors may help manage shaky hands.
  • Relaxation techniques: Stress management techniques, including relaxation exercises, deep breathing, and mindfulness, can be beneficial in reducing stress-related tremors.
  • Physical exercise: Engaging in regular physical exercise can help improve overall muscle control and coordination. Activities such as walking, swimming, and yoga may be beneficial.
  • Occupational therapy: Occupational therapy can provide practical strategies and adaptive techniques to manage daily tasks despite hand tremors.

Aid to enhance the quality of life 

  • Weighted utensils and tools: Using weighted utensils and tools can help stabilize hand movements during activities such as eating or writing.
  • Braces and splints: Supportive devices, such as braces or splints, may assist in stabilizing the affected limb.
  • Adaptive technology: Leveraging adaptive technology, such as voice-activated devices or touchscreens, can help compensate for fine motor control challenges.

Final words 

If you or someone you know has been experiencing shaky hands, it is crucial to consult a neurologist at the earliest for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan. The more you delay seeking help, the higher chances for the symptoms to persist and worsen.  The causes of shaky hands are diverse, and a specialist's expertise is essential for effective management. Max Hospitals, known for its unwavering commitment to excellence in healthcare, has a team of experienced neurologists who can provide comprehensive evaluations and tailored solutions. The journey to better health starts with a consultation with the specialists at Max Hospitals.

Frequently asked questions about shaky hands

Q. Can shaky hands be a sign of a serious medical condition?

Yes, shaky hands can be a symptom of underlying medical conditions, some of which may be serious. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional for a comprehensive evaluation to determine the cause and appropriate treatment.

Q. How can I support someone with shaky hands?

Offering understanding and patience is essential. Encourage them to seek medical advice, accompany them to appointments, and assist with daily tasks when needed. Building a supportive environment can positively impact their well-being.

Q. Are there effective treatments for shaky hands?

The treatment of shaky hands depends on the underlying cause. Options may include medications, physical therapy, lifestyle modifications, and, in some cases, surgical interventions.

Q. Is shaky hands always a sign of a neurological disorder? 

No, not all cases of shaky hands indicate a neurological disorder. While the disorder is often associated with neurological disorders, it can also result from various other factors such as medication side effects, stress, or metabolic conditions.

Q. Can children have shaky hands?

Yes, shaky hands can affect individuals of all ages, including children. Pediatric tremors might be due to benign causes like essential tremor, but it's crucial for parents to seek medical advice to rule out other potential causes.

Q. Can pregnancy or hormonal changes contribute to shaky hands? 

Yes, in some cases, hormonal changes, such as those occurring during pregnancy, menopause, or menstruation, can potentially contribute to shaky hands. 

Q. Is there a cure for shaky hands?

While there may not be a cure for certain conditions leading to shaky hands, various treatment options, including medications, physical therapy, and lifestyle modifications, can effectively manage symptoms and improve quality of life.

Q. Are there alternative therapies for managing shaky hands?

Some individuals explore alternative therapies, such as acupuncture or herbal remedies, as complementary approaches for managing shaky hands. However, it's essential to discuss these options with your doctor for safety and effectiveness.

Q. Can lack of sleep contribute to shaky hands?

Yes, insufficient sleep or chronic sleep deprivation can contribute to shaky hands. Adequate rest is crucial for overall health and can help alleviate symptoms related to fatigue-induced tremors.

Q. Can dehydration cause shaky hands?

Yes, dehydration can lead to shaky hands. Maintaining proper hydration is important for overall health, and dehydration can exacerbate symptoms in some individuals.

Q. How can I find a specialist to address my shaky hands?

Seeking a specialist, such as a neurologist or movement disorder specialist, is advisable. Max Hospitals, known for offering world-class healthcare services, can provide comprehensive evaluations and personalized treatment plans for individuals experiencing shaky hands.