Hand & Wrist Pain: Causes, Symptoms, Pain Relief Remedies & Treatment ..When To See A Doctor
The wrist is described as the point of connection between the hand and the lower arm. Anatomically speaking, the wrist is the joint where the bones of the forearm – the ulna and the radius – connect with the bones of the hand – the metacarpals.
Although the wrist is a small part of the body, it comprises several components including bones, muscles, connective tissues, bursa, and others. As a result, the wrist can develop pain if any of its underlying components are damaged or negatively affected.
In this article, we shall focus our beam on wrist pain; the causes, symptoms and treatment options for the condition, as well as some prevention tips.
What is wrist pain?
Wrist pain is simply any painful feeling that is felt around the wrist. This pain may be as little as a mild discomfort in the wrist when using the hand, or as severe as the inability to bend the wrist due to stiffness. Although most cases of wrist pain originate from the wrist, other forms of wrist pain may not start from the wrist.
Causes of wrist pain
Wrist pain may be caused due to various reasons, including the following:
- Injury to the bones of the wrist
- Repetitive motion syndrome, where the person repeats a process and in the process overexerting the hand and wrist
- Wrist bursitis
- Wrist sprain
- Nerve damage
- Ganglion cysts
- De Quervain’s disease
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Inflammation of the tendons (tendonitis) of the wrist
- Bone tumor
Symptoms of wrist pain
Besides the characteristic pain in the wrist and hand (usually when in use), below are some of the other common signs and symptoms of wrist pain:
- Inability to use the arm in carry objects
- Pain when straightening the joint
- Stiffness of the wrist
- Popping sound when moving the wrist
- Swelling around the wrist
- Bruising around the wrist
- Numbness of the hand
When to visit a doctor for wrist pain
The symptoms listed above may also be associated with other health conditions. Hence, a physical examination may not be sufficient to tell whether it is really a wrist pain that you have.
That said, you need to see a doctor if you observe any of the following:
- The numbness becomes worse
- Great difficulty in holding objects with the hand
- The wrist pain prevents you from performing regular tasks at home
Wrist pain diagnosis
A visit to the doctor is an active step in determining the cause of your wrist pain and what effective measures to be taken to improve the situation.
We already mentioned that the wrist is made up of several parts, making it an intricate part of the body. Based on this fact, identifying the cause of wrist pain may not be that easy.
Diagnosis for the cause of wrist pain includes various processes that begin with an evaluation of the patient’s medical history. Here, the doctor asks the person several questions to know how the wrist pain came, whether it is because of an injury or something else.
Below are some of the common questions that a doctor may ask during this stage:
- When did the symptoms of the pain begin?
- Are the symptoms related to any new injury that you have?
- Which is your dominant arm? Right or left?
- Are you involved in any sport that involves the use of your hand?
- Does your occupation involve exertion on your hand?
- Do you feel any numbness on your hand?
After the evaluation, the next phase is a physical examination of the affected wrist. In this phase, the doctor examines the wrist and entire arm/hand to observe any bruising or physical abnormality. The doctor also checks for tenderness of the wrist by pressing on the bones and muscles, as well as moving the wrist to check for degree of motion. It is also common for the doctor to perform a neurological inspection of the wrist to ascertain whether there is nerve damage or not.
If the physical examination does not give the doctor all he wants, he might proceed to imaging tests, which can include X-ray and CT scans. An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan is also not unusual at this stage, especially when the X-ray test result comes out negative. MRI tests are able to produce elaborate images of the bones and soft tissues which X-ray may not be able to capture.
Another type of imaging test for wrist diagnosis is the use of ultrasonic equipment to check for cysts in the wrist.
Other secondary tests can also be done to identify the underlying medical condition responsible for the wrist pain. Examples of such auxiliary tests are Tinel test to check for carpal tunnel syndrome, Finkelstein test for De Quervain’s disease, and nerve tests that use an EMG (electromyogram).
In some rare cases, the doctor may perform an arthroscopy to examine (and sometimes repair) the affected wrist. An arthroscopy is a procedure in which a long, slender, fiber-optic camera, called an arthroscope), is inserted into the affected wrist to visualize the inside of the wrist.
Wrist pain when bending
This is a common symptom of wrist pain. In this scenario, there is a discomfort of painful sensation around the wrist, which might also extend to the fingers of the hand, when bending the wrist.
Sudden wrist pain
It is possible to suddenly get wrist pain. This type of wrist pain can be caused due to various reasons, like other types of wrist pain. Common causes of sharp or sudden wrist pain are wrist sprain, torus fracture, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Ulnar-sided wrist pain
Ulnar-sided wrist pain, or pain on the pinkie side of the wrist, is a common type of wrist pain. This type of pain usually arises from injury to the bones, connective tissues (tendons, ligaments), or cartilage.
Like other forms of wrist pain, ulnar-sided wrist pain can also be caused by inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis of the joints and tendonitis, or other causes like cancer or ulnar impaction syndrome (a condition where the ulna is longer than the radius).
Symptoms of ulnar-sided wrist pain include: pain on the pinkie side of the wrist when moving the affected hand, weakened grip, and reduced range of motion of the wrist.
Wrist pain relief and treatment
Like most other types of pain, treatment for wrist pain will depend largely on the cause of the pain. In addition to the cause of the pain, the location and degree of the pain, as well as the age of the patient are also put into consideration.
That said, wrist pain can be treated by combining any of the following options:
- OTC medications: The most common form of treatment for virtually all types of pain is through the use of over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Popular OTC medications for treating other kinds of pain can be used here. Examples of such medications include NSAIDs like ibuprofen and Tylenol.
- Injection: If you don’t mind injecting the medication directly into the affected wrist, you can consider cortisone. Cortisone is a corticosteroid (anti-inflammatory hormone in drug form) that brings temporary relief to pain and swelling.
- Physical therapy: Physiotherapy can also be used in treating wrist pain. Here, a physiotherapist helps the patient in performing simple exercises that should help in improving the wrist pain. There may be a need to hold the bones of the wrist in a cast or splint, if the pain is the result of a fracture. Physical therapy can also be beneficial for people who have undergone surgery, so that they can learn how to make use of their wrist once again – rehabilitation.
- Surgery: A surgical operation may be necessary in some cases of wrist pain. Examples of situations where surgery is required for correcting wrist pain include cases of wrist pain caused by bone fractures, torn ligaments, and wrist pain due to carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Home remedies: Most cases of wrist pain are usually mild i.e. they do not require that you visit a doctor. Minor cases of wrist pain can be treated at home using natural and home remedies such as application of ice and the use of anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric. Other common home remedies for wrist pain include resting the affected wrist and immobilizing the affected arm by using a splint.
- Alternative treatment: Alternative treatment methods for wrist pain include acupuncture, homeopathy, and chiropractic.
For ulnar-sided wrist pain, the treatment options include a combination of any of the following: change in activities, use of anti-inflammatory medications, injections, and sometimes surgery.
Prevention of wrist pain
Wrist pain can be prevented by a combination of various practices.
Avoid activities that increase your risk of developing wrist pain: There are many activities, especially sporting activities that increase the chances of getting wrist pain. Sports such as tennis, hockey, skiing and handball are examples of such activities. Limiting your time in these sports or protecting your wrists by wearing wrist splints or guards while playing will help to prevent wrist pain.
Also, you need to avoid or limit actions that involve repetitive motions such as typing. When typing, you can use a wrist rest to prevent overexertion on your wrists.
As mentioned in this article, most cases of wrist pain do not require medical attention, as they can be treated at home. However, you should not take wrist pain lightly when it becomes worse or the symptoms continue, even after treatment.
All being said, getting professional medical advice about the wrist pain is the first step in finding a lasting solution to the problem.