Our hands, wrists, and fingers take on a lot of strain throughout the day. Though it might not seem like much, everything we do from typing up an email to opening a car door can add extra stress on the hands and wrists. This, in turn, can cause hand and wrist pain.
While some hand and wrist pain every once in a while may be normal, there are sometimes other more pressing issues behind this discomfort. If you experience hand and wrist pain regularly and you aren’t sure why, keep reading to learn more about 4 possible causes and the steps you can take to alleviate the pain.
Arthritis is an autoimmune condition. This occurs because the immune system is in hyperdrive, meaning that the body attacks itself. Consequently, certain areas of the body can become inflamed. This includes the hands, wrists, and fingers. There are different types of arthritis that could lead to hand and wrist pain. Two key examples would be:
- Psoriatic arthritis—Usually, psoriatic arthritis is associated with symptoms that impact the skin, but, just as with any type of arthritis, psoriatic arthritis can also cause inflammation in the joints. Most commonly, the swelling that occurs in the fingers from this condition happens close to the fingernail.Because of the nature of psoriatic arthritis, people might think that they are experiencing just a skin rash or even gout when the hand pain begins. However, psoriatic arthritis is a chronic condition. This means that it does not have a simple cure-all treatment. Instead, symptoms must be managed as they appear.The hand and wrist pain that comes with psoriatic arthritis can feel like throbbing, achy pain. For many people, this pain gets worse overnight. Medical experts believe this could be due to the synovial fluid pooling in the joints from lying down and not engaging in physical movement for a prolonged period of time.
- Rheumatoid arthritis—Sometimes known by its shortened name of RA, rheumatoid arthritis is most known for causing joint pain in people who have this condition. The swelling in the hands and wrists can become so severe that these body parts become visibly misshapen. This swelling and stiffness can make it hard for people to move their hands and fingers freely.Unfortunately, the pain on top of the swelling can cause people to lose mobility and therefore have decreased independence. RA that presents in the hands and wrists can make it challenging for people to do fine-motor skills, such as tying shoes, opening jars, or gripping a writing utensil.Though there is no cure for RA, as with psoriatic arthritis, having the right balance of therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and other treatments for pain relief can help to decrease the swelling and therefore reduce the amount of pain and joint fatigue. If you have noticeable swelling in addition to hand and wrist pain, consider seeing a rheumatologist or other medical expert to be evaluated for RA. The sooner you are able to start treatment, the sooner you will begin to feel a little bit better.
2. De Quervain Tenosynovitis
Hand and wrist pain can also be related to the tendons that run through the hands. This is the case for the condition De Quervain tenosynovitis. With this, the tendons in the wrist, particularly near the thumb, become inflamed and can then swell and thicken.
This occurs when the tendon in the wrist near the base of the thumb is overused or strained. Sometimes, rheumatoid arthritis can lead to De Quervain tenosynovitis as well. Scar tissue near this area can also cause the condition to worsen over time.
The main characteristic of this condition and the pain that comes with it is that it impacts the wrist on the thumb side. This means that people with De Quervain tenosynovitis experience pain and swelling near the base of the thumb. This type of pain can make it difficult to do certain movements, such as pinching or grasping. Some people with this condition have pain with all thumb and wrist movements.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many treatment options for the symptoms of this condition. People who experience this particular hand and wrist pain might find relief by using a wrist or thumb brace. Using ice can also be helpful to reduce inflammation of the affected areas. Most importantly, preventing further harm by limiting repetitive motions of the thumb and wrist can help to keep the pain at a manageable level.
3. Ganglion Cysts
Ganglion cysts are another common cause behind many people’s hand and wrist pain. These are cysts that are filled with fluid and can form on the hands. These cysts specifically impact the soft tissue in the wrists. They can also grow on tendons or joints. They present as lumps under the skin that are often visible, moveable, and treatable.
For some people, ganglion cysts are benign and they do not cause any pain. But for others, these cysts can either grow so large or form in a particular place that creates discomfort. In these situations, the symptoms would be:
- Pain around the cyst
- Numbness or tingling
- Pain with movement of wrist or hands
It is possible for ganglion cysts to go away on their own if the fluid drains. However, some people find that they return. Surgery is always an option to drain or remove the cyst. This doesn’t guarantee that it won’t ever return, but it often yields the best results for patients in relieving pain and preventing further harm.
4. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Lastly, carpal tunnel syndrome could be the cause behind your hand and wrist pain. The pain associated with carpal tunnel syndrome happens because the median nerve within the carpal tunnel pathway at the base of the wrist is compressed or pinched. This can cause discomfort, numbness, tingling, and pain throughout the hand. The index and middle fingers are most commonly affected by carpal tunnel syndrome, though the pain can also radiate upward into the forearm.
The pain with carpal tunnel syndrome is often worse in the morning, sometimes because of the way that people sleep. Wearing wrists splints at night can sometimes remedy this. Other times, resting the wrists and fingers is the only way to ensure that no further damage is occurring to the nerve.
Similar to the other conditions, carpal tunnel syndrome can make it hard to do daily tasks. Some preventative measures, like using ice and taking frequent breaks for any task that involves repetitive motions, can be useful in helping to stop the pain from getting worse. But in some cases, more drastic measures, such as surgery, are needed to free the nerve that is being pinched.
Need Support for Hand and Wrist Pain?
If you have any of the symptoms of the conditions that are described above, it’s important to seek out a trusted healthcare professional. Not only do you want to alleviate the pain that’s associated with these conditions, but you will also want to stop further damage from happening to your hands and wrists so that they can continue to function as they normally would.
Dealing with hand and wrist pain can be quite frustrating. For those who work with their hands frequently, not having the ability to make art, complete responsibilities, or be independent can even lead to depression or other mental health concerns. After you see a healthcare professional to look into the true cause behind your hand and wrist pain, be sure to address the emotional aspect that comes with living with pain.
Reach out through the Pain Resource Community to hear others’ experiences with hand and wrist pain. Find support through your own journey, from trying to get a diagnosis to discovering the right kind of treatment. Even through the worst of times, the chronic pain community is here to lend a helping hand.
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