Common Hand and Wrist Issues: Understanding Symptoms and Treatments

Published November 30, 2023

Our hands and wrists are exceptional parts of our human anatomy. We have the ability to use a wide variety of powerful grips, and we have longer opposable thumbs than other primates. Whether we're doing manual labor or tapping on a keyboard, our hands and wrists allow us to achieve a wide variety of macro and micro movements. However, our hands and wrists are susceptible to various conditions that can cause discomfort and hinder our daily activities. In this article, we'll explore some common hand and wrist ailments, symptoms, and treatment options. But first, let's look into the basics of hand and wrist anatomy.

hand and wrist pain

How do hands work?

Human hands are incredibly intricate, functioning through a combination of bones, muscles, tendons, nerves, and joints. The hand's skeletal structure comprises phalanges in the fingers, metacarpal bones in the palm, and carpals at the wrist, interconnected by joints for flexibility. Muscles in the hand and forearm, linked by tendons, control movements, allowing for intricate and precise actions.

Nerves in the hand provide sensory feedback, enabling the perception of texture, temperature, pressure, and pain, while also transmitting signals between the brain and muscles for voluntary movements.

The thumb's opposable movement is unique, granting humans the ability to grasp objects with precision, alongside the fingers. This amalgamation of bones, muscles, tendons, nerves, and joints gives humans remarkable dexterity, sensitivity, and the capability to skillfully manipulate objects.

How to wrists work?

Our wrists serve as complex joints linking the hand to the forearm, composed of small bones called carpals held together by ligaments. These ligaments provide stability and limit excessive movement, guarding against injury.

These joints allow for a diverse range of movements: flexion (bending the palm toward the forearm), extension (straightening the wrist), abduction (moving the hand away from the body's midline), adduction (moving the hand toward the body's midline), and rotation (twisting the hand).

Tendons from the forearm muscles traverse the wrist, attaching to hand bones, enabling wrist and finger movement. The muscles in the forearm control these tendons, facilitating varied wrist and hand motions.

The coordination of bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles empowers the wrists to offer both stability and flexibility, facilitating everyday tasks and intricate hand movements necessary for various activities.

What are some common hand and wrist conditions and treatments?

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)

One of the most prevalent conditions affecting the hand and wrist is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. It occurs when the median nerve, running from the forearm into the palm of the hand, becomes compressed or squeezed at the wrist. People with CTS might experience tingling, numbness, or weakness in their hand, particularly the thumb, index, and middle fingers. Often, symptoms worsen at night or during activities involving repetitive hand movements.

Treatment for CTS:

De Quervain's Tenosynovitis

De Quervain's Tenosynovitis affects the tendons on the thumb side of the wrist, leading to pain and swelling. Individuals with this condition may experience discomfort when making a fist, grasping objects, or turning the wrist. Swelling and a "sticking" sensation in the thumb while moving it are also common symptoms.

Treatment for De Quervain's Tenosynovitis:
Resting the affected hand, applying ice packs, and avoiding activities that worsen the pain are initial steps. A splint or brace to immobilize the thumb and wrist can aid in healing. Physical therapy exercises focused on improving movement and strength often play a crucial role in recovery. Corticosteroid injections may be recommended to reduce inflammation. In some cases, surgery may be the best option.

Trigger Finger

Trigger Finger (or trigger digit), medically known as stenosing tenosynovitis, causes the fingers to lock or catch when bent. This condition occurs due to inflammation or thickening of the tendon sheath in the affected finger, causing difficulty in straightening or bending it smoothly.

Treatment for trigger finger:

  • Splinting to rest the affected finger and tendon

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids to reduce pain and inflammation

  • Corticosteroid injections to provide more targeted pain relief

  • Surgery to release the tightened tendon sheath

Ganglion Cysts

Ganglion cysts are fluid-filled sacs that can form on the tendons or joints of the wrist. They are usually harmless and painless, but they can sometimes cause pain or discomfort. Symptoms of ganglion cysts can include having a firm, round lump on the wrist or hand, pain or discomfort in the area of the cyst, and limited movement of the affected joint.

Treatment for ganglion cysts:

  • Observation: Most ganglion cysts will go away on their own without treatment.

  • Aspiration: A doctor can drain the fluid from the cyst using a needle.

  • Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the cyst.

Wrist Sprains

Wrist sprains often occur due to sudden impacts or awkward falls, leading to stretching or tearing of the ligaments in the wrist. Symptoms include pain, swelling, bruising, and difficulty moving the wrist.

Treatment for wrist sprains:

Initial treatment involves the RICE method: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Immobilizing the wrist with a splint or brace aids in healing. Physical therapy to regain strength and flexibility is crucial for complete recovery. Severe sprains may require surgical intervention to repair damaged ligaments.

Arthritis in the Hand and Wrist

Arthritis can affect the hand and wrist joints, causing pain, stiffness, swelling, and reduced range of motion. Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and post-traumatic arthritis are common types affecting these areas.

Treatment for arthritis:

Management of arthritis involves a combination of medication, such as anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, or disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation. Physical therapy, occupational therapy, splints, and in some cases, surgery, might be recommended to manage symptoms and improve function.

Experiencing hand or wrist pain? We can help!

Our hands and wrists are intricate structures, vital for our daily activities. Recognizing the symptoms of common hand and wrist conditions is key to seeking timely treatment. If you experience persistent pain, discomfort, or reduced functionality in your hands or wrists, the hand and wrist specialists at The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics can help identify the underlying cause and develop a personalized treatment plan to get you back to doing what you love.