Pain in the Hand

Acute pain in a women wrist

Pain in the hands can have a number of causes, from injury to illness; once you have pinpointed the cause, however, most treatments are fairly simple.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is one of the most common causes of hand pain, and in fact is one of the leading nerve disorders in the United States. The carpal tunnel is at the base of the hand, near the wrist, and it is made of bones, muscle, and tendons; when tendons or other tissue become inflamed, they swell, pinching the nerve that runs through the area and causing pain and tingling that radiates through the first three fingers, wrist, and forearm. Rest (especially from typing and gripping motions) is the best course of action, along with painkillers – steroid injections may be necessary depending on the severity – and wrist splints.

Traumatic injury such as a fracture may be the cause: a fracture is a break in the bone, and can vary quite a bit in how severe they are, depending on if the bone remains stable or becomes displaced, and in how many places the bone is broken. They can occur in any of the many bones of the hand, especially the fingers. With a simple fracture, you may not know immediately that you have a break, but symptoms include stiffness, swelling, and loss of motion. The treatment depends on the severity of the break, but splints and casts are usually sufficient for a simple break, while a more complicated break may require surgery.

Disease may also be to blame: arthritis is the most common cause of hand pain. This condition causes the cartilage that pads the spaces between bones to deteriorate, creating painful friction when they move past each other.  Aching, swelling, and stiffness are the most typical symptoms, particularly at certain joints – the base of the thumb, the middle knuckles, and the joints closest to the fingertip. In the early stages, the pain often occurs following physical activity and may be a dull burning sensation; as it progresses, the pain becomes more intense and  using the hand becomes more difficult. Treatment may vary depending on whether you have osteoarthritis (which generally occurs with age and is the result of wear and tear) or rheumatoid arthritis (which is an inflammatory disease). Pain and anti-inflammatory medications are the first step, but injections, splints, physical therapy, and surgery may also be necessary.


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