Why Does My Hand Hurt?

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on March 18, 2024
8 min read

Hand pain can happen for many reasons. An injury or disease of the muscles, nerves, or tendons in your hand can cause pain. Arthritis, tendonitis, and carpal tunnel syndrome are common causes of hand pain. 

Hand pain can often be cured or the symptoms can be managed with treatment. Your doctor can suggest treatments depending on the cause. 

This is also called de Quervain tendinosis. It causes pain and swelling in the tendons on the thumb side of your wrist.

Symptoms include:

  • Pain and/or swelling close to the base of your thumb
  • Trouble moving your wrist when you're pinching or grabbing something
  • A feeling like your thumb is "sticking" when moving it

Pain can also travel the length of your thumb and up your forearm.

If you have de Quervain tenosynovitis, it can be painful to:

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

Repetitive activities and overuse are often the cause of de Quervain tenosynovitis. It can also be caused by:

  • Arthritis
  • Wrist or tendon injury that causes scar tissue to form
  • A buildup of fluid, possibly due to hormonal changes in pregnancy

Pain relief treatments include:

  • A splint to rest the thumb and wrist
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Cortisone shots

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

Skier's thumb is an injury to a ligament (a thick band of tissue that connects bones) inside your thumb. Skiers sometimes get this injury when they fall with a ski pole in their hand. The fall tears or stretches the ligament. Any accident that pulls your thumb out farther than it's meant to go can cause skier's thumb.

The inside of your thumb will feel tender. It may also be:

  • Bruised
  • Red
  • Swollen

If you have skier's thumb, your thumb may bend to the side more easily than usual. It may be hard for you to hold things or turn knobs.

Ways to treat the pain include:

  • Anti-inflammatory pills, gel, cream, or patch
  • Ice 
  • Physical therapy

If your ligament is partially torn, you may need to wear a cast for 4 weeks to hold your thumb still. Then you wear a splint for 2 weeks. You can take the splint off to do exercises to increase movement in your injured thumb.

Surgery is the only way to treat a complete tear. After a surgeon fixes the torn ligament, you'll wear a cast on the hand for 4 weeks. Then you'll wear a splint for 2 weeks, and do exercises to regain movement in your hand.

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

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

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

  • Weakness
  • Tingling
  • Numbness

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 your thumb and most of the fingers (except for your pinkie finger and the half of your ring finger that's closest to your 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 your hand. In this narrow space the median nerve can get pinched by inflamed or irritated tendons or other swelling.

Common treatments include:

Your doctor may suggest surgery if your symptoms don't get better with treatment.

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

  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Loss of movement
  • Unstable joint
  • Overlapping fingers
  • Numbness in your fingers

If you have fractured a finger, for example, you may not be able to move it fully. Your injured finger might be slightly shorter than usual.

Some fractures can be treated without surgery. Your doctor may be able to line up the pieces of bone and then put a cast or splint on to keep them in place. You might need to wear this for up to 6 weeks. 

If you need surgery, your doctor will make an incision. They might use pins, wires, or plates to hold the bones together while they heal. It's possible that you could lose some function in your finger.

This is a common cause of hand pain. The tough tissue on the ends of your bones called cartilage that allows them to move smoothly against each other starts to break down. As this happens, the bones rub against each other and can cause swelling, irritation, and pain.

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

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

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It can happen with aging or following an injury, such as a fracture or dislocation. When it affects your hand, it causes:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness

Bony nodules may also form at the middle or end joints of your 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 how bad your pain and loss of function is. It might include:

If these treatments do not provide relief, your doctor might recommend surgery.

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

The condition develops when the flexor tendons, which control the movements of your 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:

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.

A ganglion cyst is a fluid-filled lump in your hand. It grows from joints and tendons in your fingers and wrists. It's the most common type of lump in the hand.

Doctors don't know what causes ganglion cysts. You're more likely to get them if you are:

  • Assigned female at birth
  • Between ages 15 and 40 
  • A gymnast and put a lot of stress on your wrists

People assigned female at birth who have arthritis are more likely to get a ganglion cyst at the end joint on the back of the finger.

If the cyst presses on a nerve, it can cause pain, tingling, and weakness.

You don't have to treat a cyst if it doesn't cause symptoms. Wearing a wrist brace or splint can shrink the cyst. Your doctor can drain the fluid out of the cyst if it hurts, but the cyst could grow back. 

Surgery may be an option if these treatments don't work. Your doctor can remove the cyst and the stalk it grows from.

Peripheral neuropathy happens when nerves outside your brain or spinal cord are damaged. You might feel pain, weakness, and numbness in your hands and feet. Other areas of your body may also be affected, as well as body functions like digestion. 

Causes of peripheral neuropathy include:

  • Autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Infections such as Lyme disease, shingles, hepatitis, and HIV
  • Low vitamin B levels
  • Chemotherapy
  • Heavy metals like lead or mercury
  • A tumor or other growth that presses on a nerve

Treatment depends on the cause. 

These medications can help:

  • Pain relievers
  • Antidepressant medicines
  • Anti-seizure medicines

Other treatments include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Braces and special footwear
  • Visiting a foot doctor (podiatrist) 
  • Surgery to relieve pressure on the nerve or reconnect nerves 

These symptoms may come and go. Constant hand pain and numbness could be a sign of more serious nerve damage. It's important to treat nerve injuries quickly. See a doctor if symptoms like pain, weakness, and tingling don't go away.

If you wake up with a prickly sensation in your hands, your sleep position could be the cause. Some positions put pressure on nerves in your hand or wrist. 

You're more likely to have numbness and tingling in your hands if you sleep with your: 

  • Hands under your head or pillow
  • Elbows bent more than 90 degrees
  • Fists closed

Sleep on your back with your arms at your sides or on pillows to take pressure off the nerves in your hands. Or sleep on your side with your arms on a pillow.

Your doctor can help you find the cause of your hand pain. Treating the cause should relieve the pain. Pain relievers, anti-inflammatory drugs, ice and heat, and splints also help hand pain. In some cases, you might need surgery.

When should I be concerned about hand pain?

See a doctor if hand pain doesn't get better or it gets worse, or if it is very swollen, numb, or you have trouble holding things.

What diseases start with hand pain?

Hand pain can be a sign of:

  • Arthritis
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Dupuytren's contracture, which can cause your palm skin to thicken and your fingers to close
  • Gout
  • Autoimmune conditions like lupus

What causes pain in hand tendons and ligaments?

  • Tendinitis: inflammation of the tendons in your hand or wrist

  • Tenosynovitis: inflammation of the sheaths around tendons

  • Hand sprain: stretches or tears in ligaments of your hand