Hand and Wrist Problems

Because we rely heavily on our hands to perform everyday tasks, hand pain and dysfunction are both frustrating and disabling. When hand pain, swelling, and/or stiffness get in the way of work, activities of daily living, or hobbies, it’s time to see a doctor.

Conditions Causing Hand and Wrist Problems

Hand discomfort can stem from a number of conditions:

  • Arthritis
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Dupuytren’s contracture
  • Fractures and dislocations
  • Ganglion cysts
  • Gout
  • Kienbök’s disease
  • Ligament injuries
  • Nerve injuries
  • Spastic or congenital deformities
  • Tendon injuries or chronic conditions like De Quervain’s disease
  • Trigger finger and trigger thumb
  • Tumors

Diagnosing your hand condition can involve a range of assessments, from a simple examination to biopsy to advanced imaging techniques. Some of the more common diagnostic tests include:

Understanding Your Hand’s Anatomy

Your hand and wrist are capable of amazing, dynamic movements and dexterity, thanks to an intricate network of bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments found in each of three groups of bones:

  • Phalanges: These 14 bones form your fingers: three per finger and two per thumb
  • Metacarpal bones: These five bones are found in the middle portion of your hand
  • Carpal bones: These eight bones of the wrist connect to two arm bones: the ulna and the radius

A Closer Look: Hand Pain Culprits & Treatments

Many hand and wrist issues can disrupt your life considerably. Let’s look at some of the most common “culprits” and the treatments available for addressing them:


Osteoarthritis is one of the most prevalent forms of arthritis in the hand, developing as a result of genetics, degeneration, aging, or injury. The three most common sites of osteoarthritis are as follows:

  • The top/end joint closest to the fingertip
  • The thumb’s base
  • The middle joint of any finger

Because hand osteoarthritis is such a common phenomenon, it’s a good idea to know the symptoms (particularly as we age) and seek medical help if they develop. These symptoms include:

  • Bony growths at the fingers’ middle or end joints
  • Inflammation (a common site is the base of the thumb)
  • Loss of strength in fingers and grip
  • Pain
  • Stiffness

Treatment for osteoarthritis of the hand or wrist includes:

  • Alternating ice and heat
  • NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
  • Resting
  • Splints
  • Physical therapy
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Surgery, if other remedies fail

Learn more about the different forms of arthritis.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

With this condition, pressure on the median nerve (due to narrowing of the wrist’s carpal tunnel) causes any one or combination of the following symptoms:

  • Burning or tingling in the fingers
  • Pain or numbness in the hand
  • “Pins and needles” sensation in the fingers
  • Swelling
  • Weakness and difficulty gripping objects with the hand

Because carpal tunnel syndrome can resemble other conditions like bursitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and tendonitis, you should rely on your doctor for an official diagnosis and recommended treatments.

Treatment may include:

  • Ergonomic modifications to the way you use your hand and wrist
  • Splints
  • NSAIDs
  • Physical therapy
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Surgery to alleviate compression of the carpal tunnel nerves

Learn more about carpal tunnel syndrome.

Ganglion Cysts

These soft cysts are filled with fluid and are the most common non-malignant soft-tissue tumor of the hand and wrist.

You should seek the advice of your doctor to determine if your symptoms are due to a ganglion cyst. Symptoms may include:

  • Aching or tenderness
  • Wrist pain that worsens with activity
  • Palpable tumor
  • Swelling, with mild aching and weakness in the wrist

In its early phases, a ganglion cyst isn’t likely to cause discomfort. When the cyst starts growing, however, treatment will probably become necessary. Treatment options include:

  • Fluid aspiration
  • NSAIDs
  • Rest
  • Splints
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Surgery

Tendon Issues

Tendons consist of fibrous, strong tissue that connect muscles to bones. When the tendons are irritated and you feel discomfort, one of two conditions is likely the culprit:

Tendonitis is the inflammation of a tendon, commonly affecting the wrist and fingers. Symptoms include pain and swelling.

Tenosynovitis is the inflammation of the lining of tendon sheaths that encase and protect tendons. The swelling can extend from the sheath to the tendon itself. Although the cause of tenosynovitis is usually not verifiable, factors may include . strain, injury, and overuse – as well as underlying diseases like diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis. DeQuervain’s contracture and trigger finger/trigger thumb are common forms of tenosynovitis.

The treatments for tendonitis and tenosynovitis are similar, and include:

  • Ice
  • NSAIDs
  • Splints
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Temporary rest
  • Surgery