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Medicine Hands

Wrist and Hand Pain

Together the wrist and hand are composed of 29 bones: 19 in the hand and fingers, 8 in the wrist, and 2 in the forearm. The wrist, hand, and fingers are capable of a great variety of movements. But the forearm muscles are actually responsible for most of the movement and strength of the hand and fingers.

Illustration: Anatomy of the hand 


Because the wrist and hand have little protection, their bones may be more likely to fracture than other bones in the body. Falls and blows are common causes of wrist and hand injuries. But, as with other joints, overuse and repeated motions can take their toll on the hand and wrist, causing a variety of conditions, such as tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Navicular Fracture

A navicular fracture near the wrist (the navicular is a small wrist bone located at the base of the thumb) can cause long-term problems, is difficult to diagnose and may be mistaken for a "sprained" wrist. It takes a long time to heal. Because the bone is so small and almost all its surface touches other bones, an improperly healed fracture can cause the navicular to rub and scrape in places it shouldn't. The result is pain and loss of range of motion in the wrist. If you fall on your outstretched hand, bending your wrist back, and the pain does not get better within a day, you should see your doctor and have an x-ray. If the x-ray shows no sign of fracture but the pain is still present a week later, you will need another x-ray. Sometimes small fractures are easier to see by x-ray 7 to 10 days later.

Mallet Finger

Mallet finger (also known as baseball finger) occurs when something strikes the end of your fingerand forcefully bends it. It can happen when you reach to catch a ball and it hits the tip of your fingers rather than your palm.

Inside the finger, a tendon is partly torn. From the outside you may see very little, but you cannot fully straighten your finger tip. An x-ray is recommended. Mallet fingers can heal on their own if they are properly splinted for several weeks.

Skier's Thumb

Skier's thumb is a common injury. It can happen when a skier falls and ski poles catch on the ground or snow and pull the thumb away from the fingers. Any forceful motion in the wrong direction can cause the condition, which is a tear in the ligament connecting the thumb to the metacarpal bone of the hand. In bad cases the ligament severs completely. This injury should be seen by a doctor.


Tendinitis in the wrist, hand, and fingers can occur from overuse or repeated motions. Symptoms may include pain, tenderness, minor swelling, and limited motion. Tendinitis pain in the wrist may spread down to the fingers or up to the elbow. Tendinitis in the fingers may affect one or more fingers at the same time. You may feel pain constantly or only with certain movements. The area around the tendon may be tender. You may even notice a cracking sound or odd feeling when you bend or flex the finger or wrist.


Ganglions (soft, fluid-filled cysts near tendons or joints) are harmless, may or may not cause pain or discomfort, and may go away eventually on their own. The cause of most ganglions is unknown. If you find a ganglion bothersome, your doctor may drain it with a needle or remove it surgically.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a condition caused by pressure on the median nerve, a large nerve in the wrist, as it passes from the forearm to the hand through a "tunnel" formed by tendons. Carpal tunnel syndrome results in pain that may spread into the hand and forearm. You may feel numbness and tingling in the fingers, especially your thumb, index, and middle finger, and loss of strength in the hand. You may find yourself dropping things often or even being awakened at night by tingling and numbness in your hand. Talk to your doctor if you have any of the symptoms of CTS. Getting proper treatment may eliminate the need for surgery.

Self-Care Steps for Wrist and Hand

Below are some general self-care guidelines for handling wrist and hand pain. However, treatment is needed for specific injuries.

  • Apply ice immediately.

  • Always remove rings before exercising or doing manual labor. If you are wearing rings and hurt your hand, remove them immediately before swelling has a chance to begin.

  • Take aspirin or another pain reliever (medication) to ease pain and swelling.

  • Rest the painful hand for a few days and then begin to exercise it gently.

  • Call your doctor if pain continues and is not relieved by home care after 24 hours.



Injury not affecting movement

 Use self-care

Numbness or tingling in fingers during day or awakened by these symptoms at night

 See provider

Fever or rapid swelling in joint, accompanied by pain

 See provider

Pain spreading up from wrist to elbow/shoulder/neck

 See provider

Difficulty holding objects

 See provider

Clicking, popping, grinding in finger or wrist

 See provider

Visible deformity or abnormal movement after a fall

 Seek help now

Tender spot on shaft of finger bones (not at joint)

 Seek help now

Pain, swelling, and bruising after thumb is accidentally bent backward

 Seek help now