Most cases of hand and wrist pain will not be a sign of a serious or long-term problem and will settle in a few days or weeks with some simple self-care you can do at home.
There are several conditions that can cause pain or other symptoms in the hands and wrists, including types of arthritis.
The wrist is not one joint. Instead, it’s made up of several small joints where the bones of the hand and forearm meet.
Wrist pain can develop due to a sudden impact or injury. For example, a wrist sprain can cause pain if a ligament is overstretched. This type of wrist pain usually comes on suddenly when the injury occurs. Here we will explore the common causes, symptoms, and treatment options.
Causes of wrist pain
The following conditions are common causes of wrist pain.
Carpal tunnel syndrome
The median nerve is one of the three major nerves in the forearm. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve becomes compressed, or pinched. It is located on the palm side of your hand, providing sensation to the following parts of the hand:
- index finger
- middle finger
- part of the ring finger
It also provides the electrical impulse to the muscle leading to the thumb. Carpal tunnel syndrome can occur in one or both of your hands.
Swelling in the wrist causes the compression in carpal tunnel syndrome. The pain is due to excess pressure in your wrist and on the median nerve.
Aside from causing wrist pain, carpal tunnel syndrome can lead to numbness, weakness, and tingling on the side of your hand near the thumb.
Wrist swelling can occur and trigger carpal tunnel syndrome due to any of the following conditions:
- performing repetitive tasks with your hands, such as typing, drawing, or sewing
- being overweight, pregnant, or going through menopause
- having certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis, or an underactive thyroid
An injury to your wrist can also cause pain. Wrist injuries include sprains, broken bones, and tendonitis.
Swelling, bruising, or disfigured joints near the wrist may be symptoms of a wrist injury. Some wrist injuries can happen right away due to the trauma of an impact. Others may develop slowly over time.
Gout is caused by a buildup of uric acid. Uric acid is a chemical produced when your body breaks down foods that contain organic compounds called purines.
Most uric acid is dissolved in the blood and removed from the body through urination. In some cases, however, the body produces too much uric acid.
The excess uric acid can be deposited in the joints, resulting in pain and swelling. This pain frequently occurs in the knees, ankles, wrists, and feet.
Common causes of gout include:
- drinking too much alcohol
- certain medications, such as diuretics
- other conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and kidney disease
Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints. The condition can cause swelling and stiffness in the affected body part. Arthritis has many causes, including normal wear and tear, aging, and overworking the hands.
There are many forms of arthritis, but the most common types include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that usually affects both wrists. It develops when the immune system mistakenly attacks the lining of your joints, including your wrists. This can cause painful swelling, which may eventually result in bone erosion.
- Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disease that’s common among older adults. It is caused by a breakdown of the cartilage that covers the joints. The protective tissue is damaged by age and repeated motion. This increases the friction as the bones of the joint rub against each other, resulting in swelling and pain.
- Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is a type of arthritis that occurs in people with a skin disorder called psoriasis.
Symptoms of wrist pain
Wrist pain symptoms can vary depending on the cause. Some people may have pain that they describe as achy or dull; others may have pain that is sharp. The location of the pain can also vary.
In addition to pain, other symptoms may develop. Symptoms of an injury, such as a wrist sprain, can include swelling and bruising. Numbness, tingling, and weakness of the hand might also occur when pain is due to carpal tunnel syndrome.
Some people may develop the following symptoms:
- Stiffness: In the wrist and potentially the fingers.
- Trouble gripping objects: Grasping or holding on may be difficult or uncomfortable.
- A clicking sound when moving the wrist: This can be more severe after periods of rest.
Depending on the cause, symptoms may be mild to start and become worse as time goes on.
At first, pain may only occur during certain activities. In time, as the condition worsens, pain might occur even at rest.
Numbness can also progress to the point where a person cannot feel cold or heat and may drop things.
When to see a doctor for wrist pain
It’s important to see a doctor if:
- Pain is interfering with everyday activities.
- Numbness or tingling is becoming worse, and there is little or no feeling in the fingers or hand.
- Simple hand movements are no longer possible.
- Weakness makes holding things difficult.
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