Wrist Pain: Treatment, Causes & Diagnosis

Written By: Dr. Mohamed Ghanem

Dr. Mohamed Ghanem is a Specialist in the Department of Orthopaedics at the Medcare Orthopaedics & Spine Hospital and the Town Square branch of Medcare Medical Centre.

Updated On:December 28, 2023

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What is Wrist Pain?

Sprains or fractures from abrupt injuries frequently result in wrist pain. However, chronic issues like carpal tunnel syndrome, repetitive stress injury, and arthritis can also cause wrist pain. Finding the precise source of wrist discomfort might be challenging because so many different things can cause it. But effective therapy and recovery depend on a correct diagnosis.

Causes of Wrist Pain

If you experience wrist pain following a fall, an X-ray may reveal a fracture, sprain, or partial ligament damage, but occasionally unexplained aches and pains manifest. These signs and symptoms could come and go, deteriorate throughout the day, or persist indefinitely. Chronic wrist pain might be difficult to diagnose. You should visit your doctor, who will carefully examine you and order the necessary imaging tests.

Possible causes of wrist pain include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome is a frequent hand condition that results in hand and wrist pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness. Carpal tunnel syndrome is an interval pressure condition that develops when the median nerve's canal becomes compressed due to swelling from repetitive motions or excess weight. Your wrist is where this nerve passes, allowing your hand to sense and move.
  • Tendinitis: Your wrist has several tendons that allow you to move your fingers and wrist. These tendons have the potential to become inflamed and bulge, leading to movement-related pain or severe spontaneous rupture. One of the most typical types of tendinitis is De Quervain's tenosynovitis. It happens on the wrist's thumb side. The movement of your thumb and wrist together will cause you to experience excruciating pain if you have de Quervain's tenosynovitis. Visit your healthcare practitioner if you have any symptoms to get a precise diagnosis.
  • A ganglion cyst is a fluid-filled, non-cancerous (benign) tumor that develops on the tendons and joints of the wrist. Numbness, tingling, and dull discomfort can be caused by a big cyst pressing against the nerves in your wrist. Although it is not harmful or hazardous, the condition might be uncomfortable.
  • Gout: Gout, a form of arthritis, inflames joints, causing them to become sore, tender, and swollen. To touch, the injured joint could feel heated. When your bloodstream becomes overly uric acid-rich, which is a byproduct of food digestion, gout develops. Tiny, uncomfortable crystals develop in your joints and soft tissue as a result of the excess acid.
  • Osteoarthritis: As cartilage deteriorates, this type of arthritis develops. Osteoarthritis is a condition in which bone scrapes on bone, resulting in pain, edema, and stiffness.
  • Psoriatic arthritis: Psoriasis, a skin condition that results in thick, scaly skin patches, can cause psoriatic arthritis in some people. Wrist pain, soreness, and swelling are symptoms of this arthritis.
  • Another inflammatory disorder that frequently begins in the tiny joints in the hands and wrists is rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Usually, it affects the wrists or both hands. Rheumatoid arthritis in the wrist can cause joint discomfort, stiffness, and edema.
  • An autoimmune condition called systemic lupus erythematosus makes your body target healthy tissue that is already there. The tiny joints of the wrist and hand frequently experience arthritis in lupus patients.

Symptoms of Wrist Pain

Depending on the cause, wrist pain can vary. For instance, the pain associated with osteoarthritis is frequently compared to a throbbing toothache. A pins-and-needles sensation is frequently brought on by carpal tunnel syndrome. Usually, especially at night, this tingling feeling affects the thumb, index, and middle fingers. The particular location of wrist discomfort offers additional hints as to the cause of the symptoms.

When to see a doctor for Wrist Pain?

Not all wrist pain requires medical attention. Ice, rest, and over-the-counter painkillers are typically effective treatments for minor sprains and strains. However, you should visit your doctor if the pain and swelling persist for more than a few days or get worse. Poor healing, a reduction in range of motion, and long-term impairment can result from delayed diagnosis and treatment.

Wrist Pain Risk Factors

Anyone can experience wrist pain, whether they are exceedingly active, very sedentary, or somewhere in between. Nevertheless, the following factors could make the risk higher:

  • Involvement in sports. Many sports, including those that involve impact and those that put the wrist through repetitive stress, frequently result in wrist injuries. Sports including football, bowling, golf, gymnastics, skiing, and tennis are examples of these.
  • Repeated work. If done strongly and frequently enough, almost any activity involving your hands and wrists, including crocheting and haircutting, can cause incapacitating wrist pain.
  • Specific symptoms or illnesses. Carpal tunnel syndrome risk factors include pregnancy, diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout.

Wrist Pain Complications

Although they are uncommon, complications from a wrist pain could include persistent stiffness, ache, or impairment, osteoarthritis, and/or blood vessel or nerve injury.

Wrist Pain Diagnosis

During the physical examination, your doctor may

  • examine your wrist for any soreness, swelling, or malformation,
  • ask you to move your wrist to see if your range of motion has decreased,
  • and examine your forearm and grip strength.

Imaging tests that may be required include an X-ray, MRI, CT scan, or ultrasound. You could require an arthroscopy if the outcomes of your imaging tests are insufficient. An arthroscope, a pencil-sized tool, is introduced into the wrist during this treatment through a tiny skin incision. A small camera and light are within the device, and they both project images onto a television screen.

Moreover, an electromyogram may be prescribed by your doctor if carpal tunnel syndrome is thought to be present. This examination measures the minute electrical discharges that the muscles produce. When a muscle is at rest or when it is contracted, an electrode that is as thin as a needle is placed into the muscle, and its electrical activity is recorded.

Wrist Pain Treatment

Depending on the cause, many wrist pain treatments exist. A protective splint or cast may be required for a fracture, depending on its severity. You might need surgery if the fracture is unstable. A sprain, carpal tunnel syndrome, or arthritis can all be treated with the use of extended support, such as a cast, brace, or splint. Internal support is provided through surgery.

Your healthcare professional might advise the following for persistent, severe pain:

  • Medicine either orally or intravenously to treat symptoms
  • To relieve strain on the median nerve by carpal tunnel surgery
  • Loosening of constricted tendons through surgery
  • Arthritis surgery to reduce bone-on-bone contact.
  • Debridement of the affected tissue on the wrist.

Wrist Pain Prevention

Repetitive actions might aggravate wrist pain or cause it to appear. Most of us type for long periods of time. You can rearrange your desk to reduce irritation in your wrists and the tendons that surround them. These actions can aid in avoiding wrist pain:

  • To prevent your wrists from bending upward when typing, lower your keyboard.
  • Rest your hands by taking breaks from typing.
  • With your keyboard, mouse, and trackpad, use a wrist rest.
  • Change the hand you use as your "mouse hand" or learn to use a mouse with your non-dominant hand.

References

Forman, T. A., Forman, S. K., & Rose, N. E. (2005). A clinical approach to diagnosing wrist pain. American family physician72(9), 1753-1758.

Shehab, R., & Mirabelli, M. H. (2013). Evaluation and diagnosis of wrist pain: a case-based approach. American Family Physician87(8), 568-573.

Shin, A. Y., Deitch, M. A., Sachar, K., & Boyer, M. I. (2004). Ulnar-sided wrist pain: diagnosis and treatment. JBJS86(7), 1560-1574.

Stralka, S. W., Jackson, J. A., & Lewis, A. R. (1998). Treatment of hand and wrist pain: A randomized clinical trial of high voltage pulsed, direct current built into a wrist splint. AAOHN Journal46(5), 233-236.

Zanetti, M., Saupe, N., & Nagy, L. (2007). Role of MR imaging in chronic wrist pain. European radiology17, 927-938.

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