Letter | Published:

On the Clenching of the Hands from Emotional and other Causes in the Two Sexes


I SHOULD like to invite the attention of readers of this paper to the above subject when they have the opportunity of making personal observations, believing myself to have noticed a curious distinction. The number of my own cases, though sufficient to warrant me in broaching the topic, is not large enough to enable me to form definite conclusions. Whether the clenching of the hand be the result of mental emotion, of hysteria, or other nervous convulsion, of acute poisoning or of tetanus, women always seem to lay the thumb across the palm and fold the fingers over it, frequently wounding the skin of the ball of the thumb by the pressure of the index and middle finger-nails; while men invariably flex the fingers acutely first, now and then digging all four nails into the palm, and turn the thumb outside, across the back of the middle phalanges. About four years ago I witnessed a case of idiopathic tetanus in a black woman in Barbades; the disease had reached that advanced stage where the muscles of the extremities begin to be affected during the paroxysms, and it was interesting to observe, before actual clenching ensued, that the thumb first began to twitch inwardly, while the fingers were motionless. Possibly, this may be the unconscious result of habits acquired during life; I have had no opportunity of noting the phenomenon in children. Perhaps those who read this in the tropics, where there is usually plenty of tetanus, hydrophobia, and other convulsive maladies, will kindly communicate their experience.

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