Why do I have wrist pain?
Wrist pain can be caused by several things. The most likely causes are arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and injuries to the wrist.
How does arthritis cause wrist pain?
Arthritis is a disease that causes swelling, stiffness, and pain in a joint. These symptoms, which can affect the wrist, are often called “inflammation.”
The different kinds of arthritis include the following:
- Osteoarthritis is the most common kind of arthritis, and is caused by wear and tear. (It is also called degenerative arthritis.) Osteoarthritis is most common in older people, but it also runs in families, and people who inherit it might get it at a younger age. Injuries to the wrist, being overweight, and jobs or sports in which you use your wrist more often can also lead to osteoarthritis. If you live into your 70s, you will probably have symptoms of osteoarthritis.
- Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease of the immune system that can affect many joints, and often begins in the hands and wrists. It usually starts at a younger age than osteoarthritis and is more common in women. The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is thought to be autoimmune (the immune system attacks the body).
- Gout is a kind of arthritis that occurs when your body produces too much uric acid, a natural chemical. Uric acid can also be produced by food and drink, including red meat and beer. Gout is more common in the knees, ankles and toes, but it can affect wrists, too.
How does carpal tunnel syndrome cause wrist pain?
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when there is too much pressure on the median nerve that controls feeling for parts of your hand. That nerve, and nine tendons that are responsible for bending your fingers and thumb, run from the wrist into the hand through a narrow opening called the carpal tunnel.
Some people are born with an unusually narrow carpal tunnel. Other causes include swelling caused by injury, and repetitive hand and wrist actions (sometimes job-related) that irritate the tendons and cause them to swell, making less room for the nerve.
Care and Treatment
How is arthritis for wrist pain treated?
There is no cure for arthritis, and both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis may get worse over time. Options to relieve wrist pain include:
- Exercise. Your doctor or a therapist can tell you about exercises that will help your wrist, and when to do them.
- “Activity modification,” which means you stop doing the things that hurt the most, or do them less often, or do them differently.
- Use of heat, ice, and splints on the affected joints
- Anti-inflammatory medications, including common over-the-counter pain relievers (such as aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, etc.)
- Injections of the hormone cortisone can help, but the effects may not last, and you’ll have to wait several months before you can get another injection.
- Surgery can be done if arthritis progresses to the point that other methods don’t help with the pain, or if the joint becomes deformed and can’t be used effectively. Surgery can be very effective for relieving pain. Sometimes the surgery involves a trade-off – less motion, less pain.
- Many of the treatments for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are similar, but rheumatoid arthritis also requires medicine that slows the advance of the disease. These medications are called disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs).
- Gout is treated with drugs to reduce swelling and pain when you’re having an attack, and by changing your diet and lifestyle to reduce the frequency of attacks.
How is carpal tunnel syndrome treated?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is treated with exercise, ice, splints, and over-the-counter pain medications. If working at a keyboard is making the pain worse, taking breaks or adjusting the position of the keyboard might help.
In an operation called a carpal tunnel release, the ligament that forms the roof of the carpal tunnel is released to create more room for the median nerve. This is outpatient surgery, meaning you will not have to stay in the hospital overnight. Full recovery can take months.
How are wrist injuries treated?
Wrists are often injured when a person falls and extends his or her hands to break the fall. Broken bones are a common result, but ligaments can be sprained.
Treatment involves ice, anti-inflammatory medicine, and use of a splint to immobilize the wrist (keep it from moving). Surgery might be necessary if a ligament is torn, a fracture is complex, or repeated sprains lead to chronic (long-term) instability.