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Wrist pain is any discomfort in the wrist. It’s often caused by carpal tunnel syndrome. Other common causes include wrist injury, arthritis, and gout.
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.
Wrist pain 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 joint near the wrist
Call your doctor immediately if your wrist is warm and red and if you have a fever over 100°F (37.8°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.
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
- ask you to hold objects to test your grip
- order X-rays of your wrist to evaluate the bones and joints
- order an electromyography to assess the health of your 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
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-reliving medications, such as ibuprofen or naproxen
- 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 circulatory system
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.
You can help prevent wrist pain due to 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
- avoiding eating liver, anchovies, and smoked or pickled fish
- eating only moderate amounts of protein
- taking medication as your doctor prescribed
You can also do simple wrist exercises at home to help aching wrists that may include:
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.