Your wrist is a complex joint made up of eight small carpal bones. Tough bands of ligament connect your wrist bones to each other and to your forearm and hand bones. Tendons attach muscles to the bone. Damage to any of the parts of your wrist can cause pain and affect your ability to use your wrist and hand. Wrist pain is a common complaint and may vary, depending on what is causing it. The self diagnosis guide helps to identify the most common causes of wrist pain.
Sudden impacts can cause sprains, strains and even fractures. Depending on the type of broken bones, treatment varies from plaster cast to surgical fixation. Depending on severity of ligament injury, treatment varies from splinting to arthroscopic/open surgery.
Repetitive stress – Any activity that involves repetitive stress on the wrist can inflame the tissues around joints or cause stress fractures.
- Wrist pain during moderate heavy lifting: Common conditions for wrist pain include DeQuervain’s tendonitis, wrist arthritis, or thumb joint arthritis.
- Pain when pinching, gripping or turning objects: This common complaint is often diagnosed as thumb joint arthritis. Treatments focus on pain management, injections and surgery.
- Difficulty or inability to straighten finger: Typically painless at onset, these symptoms are commonly associated with Dupuytren’s contracture, a progressive condition. Moderate to severe conditions may be relieved with surgery.
- Stiffness, pain, clicking and/ or stuck fingers: These symptoms are commonly associated with trigger finger or tendonitis. Treatment is often successful with cortisone injections or a simple surgical procedure known as a ‘trigger finger release.’
- Tingling and/or finger numbness: These symptoms are typically associated with nerve compression like carpal tunnel syndrome. Treatment may include non-surgical options such as anti-inflammatory medications or cortisone injections. When non-surgical treatment options are not effective, surgery is usually recommended.
- Clumsy or weak hand: This complaint is common, and may be the result of carpal or cubital tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, trigger finger, and arthritis. Diagnostic imaging and nerve conduction testing are commonly required before identifying and treating the specific problem causing weakness.
When to see an orthopaedic/ sports injuries surgeon
Not all wrist pain requires medical care. Minor sprains and strains usually respond to rest, ice, and over-the-counter pain medications. But, if pain and swelling last longer than a few days or become worse – it needs medical advice. Delays in diagnosis and treatment can lead to poor healing, reduced range of motion and longterm disability.
Diagnosis and investigations
- Physical examination: Your doctor will check for swelling, tenderness, movements, grip and forearm strength. In some cases, your doctor may suggest imaging tests, arthroscopy or nerve tests to help pinpoint the cause of your wrist pain.
- Imaging tests: X-rays, computerized tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
- Nerve tests: If your doctor thinks you have carpal tunnel syndrome, an electromyogram (EMG) and nerve conduction test help in assessing muscle activity and nerve function.
Treatments and drugs
Treatment for wrist problems depends on the type, location and severity of the injury, as well as on your age and overall health.
Medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen and paracetamol may help reduce wrist pain.
Non-surgical treatments: If you have a broken bone in your wrist, the pieces will need to be aligned so that it can heal properly. A cast or splint can help hold the bone fragments together while they heal.
If you have sprained or strained your wrist, you may need to wear a splint to protect the injured tendon or ligament while it heals. Splints are particularly helpful with overuse injuries caused by repetitive motions.
Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be necessary. Examples include:
- Fixation of broken bones
- Release of pressure on the nerve in carpal tunnel syndrome
- Surgical tendon or ligament repair for ruptured tendons or ligaments
Wrist arthroscopy: A newer modality for diagnosis and treatment, arthroscopy is a procedure in which a pencil-sized camera is inserted into your wrist via a small skin incision.
Lifestyle and home remedies: Not every cause of wrist pain requires
medical treatment. For a minor wrist injury, you may want to try putting ice on it and wrapping your wrist with an elastic bandage.