Noticing a lump on your wrist or hand can be alarming. You’re probably wondering what could have caused it and whether or not you should call your doctor.

There are several possible causes of lumps that develop on the wrist or hand, and many of them aren’t serious. In this article we’ll explore what can cause these lumps, as well as how they’re diagnosed and treated.

Most of the time, lumps on your wrist or hand aren’t serious. In rare cases, a lump can be a sign of a condition that may require prompt medical attention. Below, we’ll take a deeper dive into what can cause these lumps.

Ganglion cyst

A ganglion cyst is a non-cancerous (benign) lump that occurs around joints. They commonly develop on the back of the wrist or on the hand, and are often round or oval-shaped.

Ganglion cysts grow out of the tissues surrounding a joint or a tendon sheath and are filled with fluid. They can appear and disappear quickly and can also change size.

Ganglion cysts are often painless. However, if they begin to press on a nerve, you may experience pain, numbness, or muscle weakness in the area. You should try to limit the amount of stress placed on your wrist, as using your wrist too much can potentially cause the cyst to get bigger.

Most ganglion cysts will eventually go away on their own.

Giant cell tumor of the tendon sheath (GCTTS)

GCTTS are a type of benign tumor, which means it is non-cancerous and won’t spread to other parts of the body. After the ganglion cyst, they’re the second most common benign tumor in the hand.

GCTTS are slow-growing tumors and form lumps that are typically not painful. They develop in the tendon sheath, which is the membrane that surrounds a tendon in your hand and helps it to move smoothly.

Epidermal inclusion cyst

Epidermal inclusion cysts are benign lumps that develop just under your skin. They’re filled with a yellow, waxy material that’s called keratin. They can sometimes form due to irritation or injury to the skin or hair follicles.

Epidermal inclusion cysts can remain the same size or get bigger over time. In some cases, they may also become inflamed or even infected. When this happens, they can become painful and red.

You can help to relieve discomfort by applying a warm, moist cloth to the cyst. Avoid poking or squeezing the cyst.

Malignant tumors

Most cysts and tumors found in the wrist and hand are benign. However, in rare cases, some can be cancerous.

A malignant tumor tends to grow quickly and can be irregular in shape. They can also be painful, especially at night. These tumors can develop as lesions on the skin (abnormal skin appearance or growth) or as fast-growing lumps under the skin.

There are several different types of cancers that can affect the hand and wrist. These can include skin cancers, like melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma and various sarcomas like liposarcomas and rhabdomyosarcomas.

Other types of tumors

In addition to those mentioned above, there are also some less common tumors or cysts that may form in the wrist or hand. They’re almost always benign and can include:

  • lipomas (fatty tumors)
  • neuromas (nerve tumors)
  • fibromas (tumors of the connective tissue)
  • glomus tumors, found around the nail or fingertip

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis happens when the cartilage that cushions your joints begins to wear down. This can lead to pain and swelling in the joints.

When arthritis occurs in your hands, you may notice small, bony lumps or knobs on the joints of your fingers. This may be accompanied by stiffness, swelling, and pain.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease in which your immune system attacks your joints. This can leading to inflammation, tissue damage, and deformities.

About 25 percent of people with RA have rheumatoid nodules. These are lumps that develop under your skin. They can be round or linear and are firm to the touch, but typically aren’t tender.

Rheumatoid nodules usually develop close to joints that undergo repeated pressure or stress. They can occur in many areas of the body, including the forearm and fingers.

Gout

Gout is a type of arthritis in which crystals form in your joints. This can lead to redness, pain, and swelling. Gout can affect the wrist and fingers, although it is most common in the joints of the feet.

Gout crystals form when your body makes too much of, or doesn’t get rid of, a chemical called uric acid. Sometimes gout crystals can form bumps under the skin called tophi. These are white in color and aren’t painful.

Foreign body

Sometimes a foreign object such as a wooden splinter or a glass fragment can get stuck in your hand. If the foreign body isn’t removed, a reaction may develop that involves swelling, a visible lump, and pain.

Carpal boss

A carpal boss is an overgrowth of bone at your wrist. You may notice a hard bump on the back of your wrist. Sometimes, a carpal boss is mistaken for a ganglion cyst.

Carpal bosses can cause pain similar to that of arthritis. This pain can get worse with increased activity. You can help to relieve it by resting and limiting movement of the affected wrist.

Trigger finger

Trigger finger affects the flexor tendons of your hand, causing them to become swollen. When this happens, the tendon on the palm side in your finger can catch on the tendon sheath, making it hard to move the affected finger.

Sometimes a small lump can form at the base of the affected finger as well. The presence of this lump can lead to further catching of the tendon, causing your finger to get stuck in the bent position.

Dupuytren’s contracture

Dupuyren’s contracture happens when the tissue in the palm of your hand thickens. It can also affect your fingers.

If you have Dupuytren’s contracture, you may notice pits and firm lumps on the palm of your hand. While the lumps aren’t typically painful, they may feel uncomfortable.

Thick cords of tissue can also develop from the palm and into the finger. This can cause the affected fingers to bend inward.

If you notice a lump on your wrist or hand, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor. They can evaluate the lump and help you get the treatment you may need.

Be sure to get medical attention for any lump that:

  • has grown rapidly
  • is painful
  • comes with symptoms such as numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness
  • appears infected
  • is in a location that’s easily irritated

In order to diagnose the cause of your lump, your doctor will first take your medical history. They’ll ask you things like when you first noticed the lump, whether it has changed in size, and if you’re experiencing any symptoms.

  • Physical examination. Your doctor will examine your lump. They may press on the lump to check for pain or tenderness. They may also shine a light on the lump to help them see if it’s solid or filled with fluid.
  • Imaging. Your doctor may also want to use imaging technology to get a better view of the lump and the surrounding tissue. This can include things like an ultrasound, MRI, or X-ray.
  • Biopsy. In the case of a cyst or tumor, your doctor may want to take a tissue sample to examine the cells.
  • Laboratory tests. Blood tests can help diagnose some conditions like RA and gout.

The treatment for your wrist or hand lump can depend on the condition that’s causing it. Your doctor will work to come up with a treatment plan that’s right for you. Possible treatments can include:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medications. You may be able to use OTC medications to relieve pain and inflammation. Common OTC drugs include acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), and naproxen (Aleve).
  • Prescription medications. Sometimes your doctor may prescribe a medication like oral or injected corticosteroids or specialized medications for conditions like RA.
  • Immobilization. A splint or brace can be used to immobilize your wrist or hand. This may be used when movement causes pain or causes a cyst or tumor to get larger.
  • Aspiration. In some cases, the fluid in a lump may need to be drained using a needle. This may be done for ganglion cysts and epidermal inclusions.
  • Physical therapy. This can include exercises to help increase your range of motion and improve strength in your hands or wrist. Physical therapy can be particularly helpful for osteoarthritis, RA, or while recovering from surgery.
  • Surgery. Your doctor may choose to remove the lump surgically. This may be done for a variety of conditions, including ganglion cysts and other types of cysts or tumors. Also, conditions that cause lumps, such as trigger finger and carpal boss, may also be treated surgically.
  • Cancer therapies. When a tumor is malignant, the most common types of treatment include surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Most of the time, lumps on your hand or wrist aren’t a cause for concern. But, in rare cases, they may be a sign of a more serious condition.

It’s important to follow up with your doctor if you notice a lump that’s grown quickly, is painful, or is accompanied by other symptoms like numbness or tingling. Your doctor will work with you to develop a treatment plan that’s appropriate for your condition.