It’s frustrating to have pain pretty much anywhere in the body—after all, that’s why we call it “pain.” It can be especially frustrating, however, when the pain keeps us from using our hands and bending our wrists.
The extra frustration stems from the simple fact that we rely on our hands to be able to do so many different activities.
In some cases, these activities are enjoyable, such as playing the piano, crafting things out of wood, or throwing a ball. At other times, they’re simply necessary—like folding laundry, mowing the lawn, putting away dishes, or even doing your job at work.
When you have hand and/or wrist pain, you may not want to do your favorite activities, and the ones you simply have to do can become miserable experiences.
If you are already suffering from hand or wrist pain, our orthopedic specialist can create a treatment plan to help you find the relief you need.
Of course, it’s even better when you can avoid the problem in the first place!
And to that end, we have some good news:
There are ways for you to reduce your risk of developing pain in your hands and wrists.
Causes of Hand and Wrist Pain
As a starting point, let’s take a moment to look at some of the common causes for hand and wrist pain. These include injuries and conditions such as:
Carpal tunnel syndrome. To put it technically, carpal tunnel syndrome is the compression of the median nerve as it passes into your hand through the wrist. The median nerve is located on the palm side of your hand (where we find the carpal tunnel, which the nerve runs through). Your median nerve provides sensation to your thumb, index finger, long finger, and part of the ring finger, so they can feel and move.
Carpal tunnel syndrome can occur in one or both of your hands. Swelling inside your wrist(s) causes the compression in carpal tunnel syndrome. In turn, this can lead to numbness, weakness, and tingling on the side of your hand near the thumb.
Cubital tunnel syndrome. This is another form of wrist nerve pain that is similar to carpal tunnel syndrome, and it occurs when the ulnar nerve is compressed in the cubital tunnel (located under a bump of bone on the inner side of the elbow joint). Even though compression happens at the elbow, the nerve runs down and into the hand, and pain can be experienced further downstream.
The ulnar nerve is one of three main nerves—along with your radial and median nerves—that provide function and feeling in your hand. There are a couple different places where the nerve can be constricted, including the cubital tunnel.
Symptoms of cubital syndrome include tingling and numbness in the ring and little fingers. These often have a tendency to come and go, and are more frequently experienced when the elbow is bent. Additionally, there can be weakened grip, difficulty with finger coordination, and (in severe or chronic cases) muscle wasting.
Ulnar tunnel syndrome. Whereas the previous condition originates with problems in the cubital tunnel at the elbow, ulnar tunnel syndrome is a matter of the ulnar nerve being compressed as it passes through Guyon’s canal on its way into the hand.
Given that we are talking about the same nerve, you can expect to develop very similar symptoms as you would with cubital tunnel syndrome. A key distinction is that bending your elbow is rather unlikely to cause symptoms to be experienced if your pain is being caused by ulnar tunnel syndrome.
Radial nerve injury. Your radial nerve controls movement of the triceps muscle, but also continues down the arm and into your hand, where it controls sensation for the upper side of your hand, thumb, and index and ring fingers. It also plays a role in sensation for the lateral side of your ring finger.
In addition to sensory functions, the radial nerve is also what you use to extend your wrist and fingers.
When this nerve is injured—something that can happen due to physical trauma, infection, or exposure to certain toxins—you may have radial neuropathy. This can lead to tingling or burning pain, but sometimes it causes numbness and is painless. From a mechanical perspective, radial neuropathy can cause muscle weakness and difficulty moving your fingers, hand, or wrist.
Bone fractures. Many cases of hand and wrist pain are related to the nervous system, but there are also plenty of incidences wherein the source of pain comes from a broken bone. The leading cause of broken bones in hands and wrists is when people try to catch themselves as they fall, and they land on an outstretched hand. (Naturally, there are other forms of physical trauma that can cause this problem as well.)
The symptoms of a broken wrist or hand are quite similar to the ones you’d expect from a broken bone almost anywhere in the body, including pain, swelling, tenderness, bruising, stiffness, and observable deformity (crooked finger, bent wrist, etc.).
Preventing Hand and Wrist Pain
As we start to look at prevention methods, it’s worth noting that your goal should be to minimize your risk for injury—and not completely eliminate it.
Sure, if you are able to remove all injury risk, you should absolutely do so. The only problem with that is it’s virtually impossible. Accidents happen and can be completely unavoidable.
With that being the case, perhaps the hardest cause of hand and wrist pain to prevent is fractures. The best you might be able to do is take measures to avoid falling in the first place—so wear shoes that have adequate grip, remove potential obstacles (you might otherwise trip over), install handrails and grab bars, etc.—and use protective equipment when playing certain sports. Also, taking measures to build your bone strength (exercising and eating a diet with plenty of vitamin D and calcium is a great starting point) can be beneficial.
Here are some tips to reduce your risk of hand and wrist pain from carpal tunnel syndrome (and other forms of nerve compression):
- Manage your diabetes. If you are diabetic, it is important to practice comprehensive health maintenance. As it is for many other medical issues and complications, unmanaged diabetes is a primary cause of nerve compression. But if you do things like maintain a healthy weight, eat a proper diet, and exercise on a regular basis (under doctor guidance!), you can lower your personal risk.
- Manage your weight. Excess weight can play a role in nerve injury and compression, both of which can cause (or at least contribute to) hand or wrist pain. In the event you have attempted basic weight loss or management practices on your own—like reducing calorie intake and increasing physical activity—it’s likely time to consult with either your primary care physician or one of our team members to discuss your options.
- Improve your posture and mind your form. Your body is highly-connected, and this means a positioning issue in one area can lead to problems in a different one. For example, a posture wherein your shoulders are rolled forward can shorten the muscles in your neck, thereby compressing nerves in the area. Those nerves might be the ones running down to your fingers, hands, and wrists. Also, you should use a neutral, relaxed position as often as possible. In doing so, you keep your wrists from bending all the way up or down. If you use a keyboard often, it’s best if you keep it at elbow height (or slightly lower). Depending on your situation, you may need to request assistance from your employer.
- Relax your grip. Sometimes, the core issue responsible for hand or wrist pain is excessive strain or tension. So if you use tools for your job (or as a hobby), take a little time to evaluate how your wrist and hand feels when you are using them. If your work entails typing or using a cash register, you can benefit from hitting the keys in a softer, gentler manner (instead of really hammering down on them).
- Take frequent (appropriate) breaks. Our society places a tremendous amount of value on hard work, which is certainly admirable, but it’s important to take time throughout the day—and on a reasonably frequent basis—to stretch your hands and bend your wrists. If possible, alternate tasks so you can put your hands and wrists in new positions—especially if you have to use equipment that vibrates or requires you to exert a lot of force when operating it.
- Change positions periodically. Since problems can develop when your wrist is kept in a particular position for an extended period of time, you should aim to move around on a frequent basis throughout the day.
- Change your computer keyboard and mouse. If you feel as though your computer’s keyboard or mouse is straining your wrist—or they feel uncomfortable—you will likely benefit from simply switching out to more ergonomic models.
In the event you are already suffering from hand and/or wrist pain—even if mild—your best course of action is to contact us for an appointment. The sooner we can provide care, the better your odds of avoiding a potentially chronic condition that will cause you a lot of pain over time.
For more information about hand or wrist pain—or to request an appointment with our Carmichael office—simply call McDowell Orthopedics & Podiatry Group today by calling (916) 961-3434 or take a moment and connect with us online right now!