If finger pain occurs without any kind of trauma or injury, it is likely that the finger pain is caused by inflammation in the hands. Inflammatory conditions that can affect the wrists, fingers and hands include arthritis, tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Arthritis that affects the joints of the fingers is usually osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is more common than rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is caused by damage over time to the cartilage of the joint capsules; increased friction in the joints causes the joint tissues to become painful, stiff and inflamed. Osteoarthritis is more common in people age 50 and older. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the person’s own body, primarily the joints. Over time, joint inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis can lead to deformity of the joints, especially in the fingers. Treatment for arthritis in the fingers may be symptomatic to control pain, nonsurgical to control inflammation or surgical to reconstruct or repair a damaged joint. The treatments for rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis may be different because these diseases have different causes.
Tendonitis in the fingers is another inflammatory cause of finger pain. Tendonitis is inflammation that affects the tendons, the structures that connect muscles to bones. This inflammation causes pain and friction during movement. When tendonitis occurs in the fingers, the fingers may “lock up” when a person tries to move them because the tendon is too tight in the sheath that surrounds it due to swelling. Medications that reduce inflammation, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can improve tendonitis in the wrists and hands.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is also an inflammatory cause of wrist, hand and finger pain. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when inflammation occurs in a structure called the carpal tunnel in the wrist and this inflammation puts pressure on a nerve called the median nerve. The carpal tunnel is composed of several of the carpal bones of the wrist plus the connective tissues in the area. Compression of the median nerve results in pain, muscle weakness, numbness and tingling that affects the thumb and approximately half of the hand on the thumb side. A different nerve, the ulnar nerve, supplies the pinky finger and half of the ring finger. Treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome may be nonsurgical, like the use of anti-inflammatory medications. In cases that do not sufficiently improve with medication, surgery to relieve the nerve compression is an option.