What is wrist pain?
Your wrist is a joint that connects your hand and forearm. Your wrist joint contains many small bones that help you bend, straighten and rotate your hand and wrist. Many treatable problems can cause pain, numbness or tingling in the wrists and hands.
What causes wrist pain?
If you have wrist pain after a fall, an X-ray may show that you have a fracture, sprain or partial ligament disruption, but sometimes mysterious aches and pains appear. These symptoms may come and go, get worse throughout the day or never seem to go away. Finding the cause of chronic wrist pain can be a challenge. You should see your healthcare provider who will perform a careful examination and obtain appropriate imaging studies.
You may have wrist pain due to:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome: This common hand problem causes pain, numbness, tingling and weakness in the hand and wrist. Carpal tunnel syndrome is an interval pressure phenomenon that occurs when swelling from repetitive movements or excess weight squeezes the median nerve within its canal. This nerve travels through your wrist and provides feeling and movement in your hand.
- Tendinitis: Many tendons cross your wrist to provide movement of your wrist and fingers. If they get irritated, these tendons can swell, causing pain with movement or severe spontaneous rupture. De Quervain’s tenosynovitis is one of the most common forms of tendinitis. It occurs along the thumb side of your wrist. With de Quervain’s tenosynovitis, you will have severe pain when you make movements with your thumb and wrist combined. If you experience these symptoms, see your healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis.
- Ganglion cysts: A ganglion cyst is a non-cancerous (benign), fluid-filled lump that forms on wrist joints and tendons. A large cyst can press against nerves in your wrist, causing numbness, tingling and a dull ache. The condition is not dangerous or damaging but can cause discomfort.
- Gout: A type of arthritis, gout inflames joints, making them painful, tender and swollen. The affected joint may feel warm to the touch. Gout occurs when too much uric acid (a waste product from food digestion) builds up in your bloodstream. The excess acid causes tiny, painful crystals to form in your joints and soft tissue.
- Osteoarthritis: This form of arthritis develops when cartilage, the connective tissue that covers the ends of bones, wears down. With osteoarthritis, bone rubs against bone, causing pain, swelling and stiffness.
- Psoriatic arthritis: People with psoriasis, a skin disorder that causes thick, scaly skin patches, can get psoriatic arthritis. This arthritis causes wrist pain, tenderness and swelling. It can result in stiffness and a reduced range of motion.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is another autoimmune disease that often starts in small joints in the hands and wrists. It usually affects both hands or wrists. People with rheumatoid arthritis in their wrist may experience joint pain, swelling and stiffness.
- Lupus: Systemic lupus erythematosus is an autoimmune disease that causes your body to attack its own healthy tissue. People with lupus often develop arthritis in the small joints in their wrist and hand.
Unusual and rare sources of wrist pain include:
- Avascular Necrosis (loss of blood supply) of a carpal bone.
- Cervical (neck) nerve compression.
Care and Treatment
How is wrist pain treated?
Treatments for wrist pain vary depending on the cause. Depending on the severity, you may need a protective splint or cast for a fracture. If the fracture is unstable, you may require surgery. Wearing an extended support such as a cast, brace or splint can ease the pain brought on by a sprain, carpal tunnel syndrome or arthritis. Surgical intervention provides internal support.
For chronic, severe pain, your healthcare provider may recommend:
- Oral and/or injected medications to relieve symptoms.
- Carpal tunnel surgery to release pressure on the median nerve.
- Surgical release of compressed tendons.
- Surgery to ease bone-on-bone contact from arthritis. This can include motion-preserving procedures such as potential wrist fusion, bone removal or total or partial wrist replacement.
- Removal of the inflamed tissue (wrist debridement). Your surgeon may use an open or arthroscopic (minimally invasive) technique.
How can I treat wrist pain at home?
You may need to limit or stop activities that worsen wrist pain. Other at-home therapies include:
- Cold compress for acute injuries.
- Warm compress for chronic conditions.
- Hand exercises guided by occupational- or physical therapy-certified hand therapists.
- Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), topical NSAIDs applied to the skin (pain-relieving creams).
- Oral or injected corticosteroid medication.
How can I prevent wrist pain?
Certain repetitive movements can bring on wrist pain or make it hurt more. Most of us spend a lot of time typing. You can change your desk set up to relieve irritation of your wrists and their surrounding tendons. These steps can help prevent wrist pain:
- Lower your keyboard so that your wrists don’t bend upward when you type.
- Take periodic breaks from typing and rest your hands.
- Use a wrist rest with your keyboard, mouse and trackpad.
- Alternate your “mouse hand” or train yourself to use a mouse with your nondominant hand.
When to Call the Doctor
When should I call the doctor?
You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:
- Inability to move your hand, wrist or fingers.
- Pain that lasts after two weeks of at-home treatments.
- Painful tingling up or down your arm.
- Unusual redness or swelling in your forearm, wrist, hand or fingers.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Many people experience wrist pain at some point. Outside of a sprain or fracture, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and arthritis are major causes of wrist pain. Your healthcare provider can help pinpoint what’s causing your wrist pain and recommend appropriate treatments. Often, nonsurgical therapies like wearing a splint, modifying activities and doing hand exercises can ease symptoms. If wrist pain interferes with your ability to work, sleep or do daily activities, you might benefit from surgery.
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