When normal, everyday activities are performed in a purposeful, coordinated way while the person has no intention of performing them or barely recollects the activity, this may be a sign of alien hand syndrome. The most famous instance of alien hand syndrome was memorably depicted in the 1956 dark comedy “Dr. Strangelove,” in which Peter Sellers’ wheelchair-bound character would suddenly and shockingly rise up from his chair to unwittingly render a Nazi salute with his right arm, while his left arm tried in vain to beat down arm, mid-salute.
While alien hand syndrome is often called “Dr. Strangelove Syndrome” and is often played out as a gag or horror vehicle in both science fiction and comedies, this serious medical condition is nothing to laugh at. So what exactly is alien hand syndrome, what are the odds of you developing it, and should you be concerned if you or someone you love has it?
A Rare Condition
While alien hand syndrome sounds terrifying, the good news is that there have been less than 50 reported cases of the condition. Those who do have it detail how their hand appears to have a mind of its own, as if it is alien to the body. The actions performed are considered normal, everyday activities such as bushing one’s hair or picking up objects and are neither convulsive nor awkward. The problem is that the patient does not realize he is doing these unwanted or unintentional tasks or activities.
There is no single cause for alien hand syndrome, however, some medical conditions may put a person at risk of developing it. For example, alien hand syndrome can occur after a stroke, as well as after some neurological procedures. Visual-spatial neglect, hemispatial neglect or hemiagnosia – where one side of the body lacks sensation and, therefore, is not subject to the patient’s attention – may also present with alien hand syndrome, especially after suffering a stroke or traumatic brain injury. Cancer and lesions to the brain – in particular the corpus callosum, motor cortex or supplementary motor cortex – may also cause alien hand syndrome.
While medical science has yet to find a cure for alien hand syndrome, there are practical treatments and behavior modifications that can reduce flare-ups. Keeping your hands occupied with something to fidget, playing games on your phone, holding a worry stone or even knitting or crocheting can help the brain focus on other activities in lieu of the hand acting on its own. Prescribed neuromuscular blocking agents may help control symptoms. Cognitive and physical therapies have also been known to help patients regain control of their involuntary responses. Still, the only real route to overcoming alien hand syndrome is to seek out medical attention, with the odds being best for recovery when only one hemisphere of the brain has been impaired.
While the odds of developing alien hand syndrome are slim to none, there’s an outstanding chance that you may develop or already have chronic knee pain or need a new hip. For more than 40 years, Orthopaedic Associates of Central Maryland has provided the highest standard of orthopedic care for patients of all ages in Catonsville, Columbia and Eldersburg as well as nearby in the Annapolis, Washington, DC and Montgomery County areas. We offer the best in orthopedic medicine, from arthroscopic surgery and minimally invasive procedures to joint replacement, sports medicine, and onsite diagnostic imagery. If you have an orthopedic emergency or are just trying to manage pain, call us today at (410) 449-7722 or request an appointment online.