Why Does My Hand Hurt?

Hand pain can happen for many reasons, from accidents to conditions that are ongoing. It can often be treated so that your symptoms ease up.

This article looks at some of the most common causes of hand pain.

 

De Quervain's Tendinitis

This is also called de Quervain's tendinosis. It causes pain on the thumb side of the wrist.

The pain may develop gradually or start suddenly. It can travel the length of the thumb and up the forearm.

If you have de Quervain's tendinitis, it can be painful to:

  • Make a fist
  • Grasp or hold objects
  • Turn your wrist

The pain results from irritation or inflammation of the wrist tendons at the base of the thumb. Repetitive activities and overuse are often responsible for de Quervain's.

New mothers can get it from holding their baby in an awkward position. Wrist fractures can also make you more likely to get de Quervain's.

Pain relief treatments include:

Surgery may be an option if symptoms remain severe after you have tried other treatments.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

This is one of the most common nerve disorders of the hand. It 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:

You may especially feel it in your thumb, index finger, and middle finger. This can make it hard to grip objects.

The discomfort happens when swelling constricts the median nerve. The median nerve controls sensation and muscle impulses in the thumb and most of the fingers (except for the pinkie finger and the half of the ring finger that’s closest to 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:

Your doctor may suggest surgery if your symptoms last for 6 months or more.

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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 not be able to move it fully. Your injured finger could be swollen and in some cases slightly shorter than usual.

There are several types of fractures:

  • Simple (broken bone is aligned and stable)
  • Complex (break may cause bone to shift or become displaced, making treatment more difficult)
  • Comminuted (bones broken in more than one place)
  • Compound (broken bone breaks through skin)

Fracture treatment depends on the type of the break. Casts or splints are often used for simple breaks. You may need pins, wires, or plates to treat more complicated fractures. Surgery might also be needed to set the broken bone completely.

Arthritis

This is a leading source of hand pain. It 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. It can happen 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:

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

Trigger Finger

Doctors call this stenosing tenosynovitis. It causes fingers or the thumb to lock in a bent position. It can be painful, especially when you bend or straighten the affected finger or thumb.

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

Nodules may also form on the affected tendons. The sheath itself may thicken, too.

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.

Doctors don’t know what causes trigger finger. You’re more likely to get it if you 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 fix the problem. Over-the-counter pain medications can ease the pain. Corticosteroid injections (steroid shots) often can help relieve symptoms. Your doctor may recommend surgery if other treatments fail.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on January 04, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

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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