Hand Pain Causes

Hand pain has many causes, including injury and disease. Fortunately, many of those causes can be treated and the symptoms eased.

Here are some of the most common conditions that cause hand pain.

De Quervain's tendinitis. This is also known as de Quervain's tendinosis. It causes pain on the thumb side of the wrist.

The pain may develop gradually or suddenly. It can travel the length of the thumb and up the forearm. If you have de Quervain's tendinitis, movements that can be painful include:

  • Making a fist
  • Grasping or holding objects
  • Turning the wrist

The pain results from swelling of the wrist tendons at the base of the thumb, which is caused by irritation or inflammation. Repetitive activities and overuse are often responsible for the onset of de Quervain's.

New mothers are at high risk because of the awkward position in which they hold their baby and their fluctuating hormones. Wrist fractures can also increase your risk of de Quervain's. Pain relief treatments include:

Surgery is an option if symptoms remain severe after other treatments have been tried.

Carpal tunnel syndrome. This is one of the most common nerve disorders. It affects up to 3% of the American population.

Carpal tunnel syndrome causes pain in the:

  • Palm and some fingers of the hand
  • Wrist
  • Forearm

Often the pain is worse at night than during the day. Carpal tunnel syndrome can also cause:

These symptoms can be particularly noticed in the thumb, index finger, and middle finger. This can make it hard to grip objects.

The discomfort occurs when swelling presses against the median nerve. The median nerve controls sensation and muscle impulses in the thumb and fingers (except for the pinkie finger).

The median nerve passes through the carpal tunnel. The carpal tunnel is a structure made up of bones and connective tissues that is located at the base of the hand. It is in this narrow space that the median nerve is pinched by inflamed or irritated tendons or other swelling.


Common treatments include:

Surgery may be suggested if symptoms persist for six months or more.

Fractures. A fracture, or a break in a bone, can cause a great deal of hand pain. Besides pain, after a fracture you may have:

  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Loss of movement

If you have fractured a finger, for example, you may be unable to move it fully. You might also notice that the injured finger is swollen and in some cases slightly shorter than normal.

There are several types of fractures:

  • Simple
  • Complex
  • Comminuted
  • Compound

In simple fractures, the broken bone is aligned and stable. In more complex fractures, the break may cause the bone to shift or become displaced, making treatment more difficult. In comminuted fractures, bones are broken in more than one place. Compound fractures are fractures in which the broken bone breaks through the skin.

How a fracture is treated depends on the type of the break. Casts or splints are often used for simple breaks. Pins, wires, or plates may be needed to treat more complicated fractures. Surgery might also be necessary to fully set the broken bone.

Arthritis. This is a leading source of hand pain. Arthritis causes joints to lose the cartilage that allows them to move smoothly against each other. As the cartilage deteriorates, painful, sometimes debilitating swelling begins to occur.

In the hand, the areas where this most often occurs are the:

  • Base of the thumb
  • Middle joint of one or more fingers
  • End joint, which is closest to the finger tip

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It causes progressive degeneration of cartilage.

Osteoarthritis can occur with aging or following an injury, such as a fracture or dislocation. When it affects the hand, it causes:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness

Bony nodules may also form at the middle or end joints of the fingers. Osteoarthritis can also cause deep, aching pain at the base of the thumb. The hand may also become weaker, making everyday activities difficult.


Treatment depends on the severity of the pain and disability. Treatment includes:

  • Anti-inflammatory or analgesic painkillers
  • Splints for the fingers or wrist
  • Heat
  • Physical therapy

If these treatments do not provide relief, surgery may be recommended.

Trigger Finger. This is also known as stenosing tenosynovitis. It causes fingers or the thumb to lock in a bent position. It can be painful, especially when bending or straightening the affected finger or thumb.

The condition develops when the flexor tendons, which control the movements of the fingers and thumb, become irritated. This can cause them to thicken within the tendon sheath that surrounds the flexor tendons.

Nodules may also form on the affected tendons. And the sheath itself may thicken as well.

All of this prevents the smooth movement of the tendons. Eventually, the tendon may become stuck when you try to straighten a bent finger or thumb. You may also feel a catching sensation when the finger or thumb locks in place, and then a pop as the tendon is released.

It is not known what causes trigger finger. People at higher risk include those who have:

Women get the condition more often than men do. And trigger finger is more common in adults between ages 40 and 60.

Rest, sometimes while wearing a splint, may resolve the problem. Over-the-counter pain medications can ease the pain. Corticosteroid injections often can help relieve symptoms. Surgery may be recommended if other treatments fail.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on July 23, 2016



American Society for Surgery of the Hand: "De Quervain's Tendinitis," "Hand Fractures," "Arthritis: Osteoarthritis," "Trigger Finger."

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "De Quervain's Tendinitis (De Quervain's Tendinosis)," "Arthritis of the Hand," "Trigger Finger."

American College of Rheumatology: "Carpal Tunnel Syndrome."

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: "Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Fact Sheet."

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