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Injury and certain health conditions, including arthritis, can cause your wrist to hurt. Symptoms like swelling or numbness can vary depending on the underlying cause.
Wrist pain can be classified as any discomfort felt in the wrist. It can be caused by a variety of issues, including
- acute injury
- carpal tunnel syndrome
Even though the wrist is a small part of the body, it’s comprised of eight bones, as well as ligaments and tendons, making it a somewhat delicate area.
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’s 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
The median nerve also provides the electrical impulse to the muscle leading to the thumb. Carpal tunnel syndrome can occur in one or both of your hands.
Aside from causing wrist pain, carpal tunnel syndrome can lead to:
- tingling on the side of your hand near the thumb
Risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- performing repetitive tasks with your hands, such as typing, drawing, or sewing
- having certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis, or an underactive thyroid
- having a family history of carpal tunnel, as anatomic differences can run in families
An injury to your wrist can also cause pain. Falling and catching yourself with your hands is a common way to injure the area.
Swelling, bruising, or disfigured joints near the wrist may be symptoms of a fracture, tendonitis, tendon, or ligament tear. It’s also possible that the nerves or the tissue around the wrist can become injured, even if the bone is unharmed.
Gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis that is
Most uric acid is dissolved in the blood and removed from the body through urination. However, in some cases, the body produces too much uric acid, and in other cases, the body does not excrete uric acid sufficiently.
This excess uric acid can be deposited in the joints, resulting in pain and swelling. Gout pain frequently occurs in the knees, ankles, wrists, and feet.
Common risk factors for gout
- overconsuming alcohol
- overconsuming foods and drinks high in fructose
- eating a diet high in purine-rich foods, like red meat and certain types of seafood
- living with obesity
- 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 that can affect the wrist include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that can affect 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 [during the aging process or over time] and repeated motion. This increases the friction as the bones of the joint rub against each other, resulting in swelling and pain.
While arthritis can happen to anyone, especially as we age, there are some risk factors that can increase your chances of developing it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these factors
- living with obesity
- living with untreated infections
- untreated joint injuries due to overuse (such as knee bending)
These benign, noncancerous, and usually harmless lumps occur most often in the hand, usually on the back of the wrist.
It’s not known what causes ganglion cysts, but, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, they tend to appear most often in:
- individuals ages 15 to 40 years
- gymnasts (because of the repeated stress to their wrists)
- individuals assigned female at birth
Many times, ganglion cysts are painless, but if they’re putting pressure on a joint or nerve, they can cause pain in the wrist area. Treatment for ganglion cysts varies from waiting to see if it will go away on its own, to wearing a splint, to draining it.
A rare disease that causes the lunate bone in the wrist to slowly break down due to low blood supply, Kienbock’s disease can cause:
- wrist pain
- decreased grip strength
It’s not known what causes Kienbock’s disease, and symptoms can range from mild to more severe. The condition can be treated with:
- splinting (the area)
- surgery to increase blood flow to the area
Depending on what’s causing your wrist pain, it may be accompanied by the following symptoms:
- swollen fingers
- difficulty making a fist or gripping objects
- numbness or tingling sensation in the hands
- pain, numbness, or tingling that gets worse at night
- sudden, sharp pain in the hand
- swelling or redness around the wrist
- warmth in a wrist joint
Call your doctor immediately if your wrist is warm and red and if you have a temperature over 100.4°F (38°C). These symptoms could signal infectious (septic) arthritis, which is a serious illness.
You should also contact your doctor right away if you can’t move your wrist or if your hand looks abnormal. You may have broken a bone.
Your doctor should also evaluate wrist pain that becomes worse or interferes with your ability to do daily tasks.
Treatment options for wrist pain can vary depending on the cause.
Treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome may include:
- wearing a wrist brace or splint to reduce swelling and ease wrist pain
- applying hot or cold compresses for 10 to 20 minutes at a time
- taking anti-inflammatory or pain relieving medications, such as ibuprofen or naproxen
- steroid injections
- physical therapy
- having surgery to repair the median nerve, in severe cases
Treatment for gout may consist of:
- taking an anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen or naproxen
- drinking lots of water to reduce the concentration of uric acid
- cutting back on high fat foods and alcohol
- taking medication your doctor prescribes to decrease the uric acid in your body
Treatment for ganglion cysts can include:
- wearing a splint to keep the wrist from moving
- aspiration (draining the cyst)
- surgically removing the cyst
Kienbock’s disease is typically treated by:
- keeping the wrist immobile
- taking pain medication
- surgery to restore blood flow to the wrist
- surgery to even out the length of arm bones
If you have sustained a wrist injury, you can help promote healing by:
- wearing a wrist splint
- resting your wrist and keeping it elevated
- taking a mild pain reliever, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
- placing an ice pack on the affected area for several minutes at a time to reduce the swelling and pain
If you have arthritis, consider visiting a physical therapist. A physical therapist can show you how to do strengthening and stretching exercises that can help your wrist.
Your doctor will perform a physical examination and order certain tests to diagnose the cause of your wrist pain. Your doctor may do the following:
- bend your wrist forward for 60 seconds to see if numbness or tingling develops
- tap the area over the median nerve to see if pain occurs
- test the strength of your wrist and fingers
- order X-rays of your wrist to evaluate the bones and joints
- order an electromyography to assess the health of your muscles and nerves
- request a nerve conduction velocity test to check for nerve damage
- order urine and blood tests to detect any underlying medical conditions
- request a small sample of fluid be taken from your joints to check for crystals or calcium
Not all wrist pain can be prevented, especially when it comes to arthritis or the development of cysts.
However, you can lessen the possibility of developing carpal tunnel syndrome by practicing some of the following strategies:
- using an ergonomic keyboard to keep your wrists from bending upward
- resting your hands often while typing or doing similar activities
- working with an occupational therapist to stretch and strengthen your wrists
To help prevent future episodes of gout, consider:
- drinking more water and less alcohol
- limiting the amount of liver, anchovies, and smoked or pickled fish you eat
- eating only moderate amounts of protein
- taking medication as your doctor prescribed
While it may not be possible to completely prevent arthritis, you can
- reducing stress, when possible
- staying physically active
- working with your doctor on the best way to minimize your pain
- keeping your weight at a moderate level
- protecting your joints by choosing activities that will not overstress them
If your wrists feel sore and achy simply from overworking them (such as working for too long on your computer in one position), you can also do some simple wrist exercises at home to help ease the stiffness and tension.
If you’ve been diagnosed with carpal tunnel or another condition that affects your wrists, talk with your doctor before trying any wrist exercises.
Wrist flexes and extensions
This exercise involves placing your forearm on a table, with a cloth padding under your wrist. Turn your arm so your hand is facedown. Move your hand up until you feel a gentle stretch. Return it to its original position and repeat.
Wrist supination and pronation
Stand with your arm out to the side and your elbow bent at 90 degrees. Rotate your forearm so your hand faces up and then turn it the other way, so your hand is facing down.
Place your forearm on a table, with your hand hanging off and padding under your wrist. Have your thumb facing up. Move your hand up and down, as if you’re waving.
A variety of issues can cause wrist pain, from simply sitting at the computer for too long to a more serious issue like Kienbock’s disease or rheumatoid arthritis.
If you’ve been experiencing pain in your wrist that does not seem to go away, talk with your doctor about your symptoms. Most conditions that affect the wrist can be treated with over-the-counter medication, exercises, splints or casts, surgery, or a combination of these treatments.