Everyone’s hands hurt from time to time. Maybe you spent all day typing and your fingers or sore, or maybe you jammed your finger putting away the dishes or sliding into home plate. But when that pain starts to get worse or lasts for weeks, it may be time to go see a hand doctor.
Ignoring hand pain can lead to permanent loss of function and more serious and invasive treatments. Read on to learn why your hands might be hurting and when it’s time to seek medical attention for it.
1. Pain At Night
One of the first signs that you should see a hand specialist is pain that wakes you up at night. Your hands may hurt enough to keep you awake, or you may wake up in the morning with a strange feeling in your hands. If you feel like you have to shake or flick your hands out in the morning, it’s time to see a doctor. We consider “night time pain” in the hands as one of the hallmarks to carpal tunnel syndrome.
When we sleep, many of us curl our wrists and keep them in that position for a long time. This can put pressure on the median nerve in the wrist, otherwise known as carpal tunnel syndrome. As your condition gets worse, you may find that these symptoms persist further into the day, especially when you’re driving or holding your phone.
2. Restricted Motion of Fingers
If you ever experience pain or limited motion in your fingers, it may be a good idea to see a hand specialist since you might have tendonitis. You may find that your symptoms are worse in the morning and then improve throughout the day. If you ever experience a popping sensation, or “clicking” when you move your fingers, or pain when you try to straighten your fingers, you may have a condition called trigger finger.
Trigger finger occurs when the flexor tendons in in your hands become inflamed and can no longer glide through small tunnels in the fingers called pulleys. Restrictive motion of fingers through these pulleys can vary in severity and pain. This can cause the finger to get stuck in a bent position and makes moving it difficult or painful.
3. Fingers Turning White
When we’re in cold places, it’s somewhat normal for our extremities to get cold first. Our body pulls blood in towards our core to keep our important organs warm, and our hands and feet are left without much circulation. But if you ever find your fingers turn white when you’re in cold areas, you may have Raynaud’s Phenomenon.
This condition causes the blood vessels in your fingers or toes to go into shock or spasm. It is usually temporary and resolves once the hands become warmed up again. Avoiding cold places such as the freezer section of a supermarket, can help. Carrying gloved or a hand warmer my sometimes be needed. A little cold doesn’t sound too bad, but severe flare-ups can cause your fingers to turn blue and become numb or painful. Raynaud’s Phenomenon attacks can last as little as a minute or as long as several hours. Patients with this problem, usually have an underlying autoimmune problem, such as scleroderma, but it can also occur without an underlying medical / autoimmune condition.
4. Dropping Objects
We all get fumble fingers from time to time, but if you start dropping things more often, you might want to see a doctor. This is especially true if you can’t explain what made you drop the object. A patient notices most, when a simple object such as a coffee cup, falls out of their hand without warning. Most of the time, you are embarassed you dropped it, but don’t realize there is actually a medical reason behind it. Symptoms like this can point to carpal tunnel syndrome.
Carpal tunnel syndrome compresses your median nerve, which runs the length of your arm and then goes through a passage in your wrist. As this nerve gets more and more compressed, you may notice weakness in your hands. This is what causes you to start dropping things and is a sign that it’s time to get your carpal tunnel treated.
5. Pinky Sticks Out
One of the more dramatic signs that it’s time to visit a hand specialist is if your pinky begins to stick out. You may notice that more and more, you always look like you’re having tea with the queen of England. This is called Wartenberg’s sign and can indicate a pinched nerve.
Pinched nerves happen when too much pressure is applied to a nerve by bones, muscles, tendons, or other surrounding tissues. Wartenberg’s sign usually points to a pinched ulnar nerve, which passes through your elbow. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy or splinting as a way to get your ulnar nerve some space and your pinky back in line.
6. Calcium Deposits On Your Fingertips
You might notice that small, hard lumps are forming under your skin on your fingertips known as calcinoisis of the extremities. These deposits may seem whitish under your skin, and they might pop up in clusters. These are calcium deposits, and they are a potential sign of scleroderma.
Scleroderma is an autoimmune rheumatic disease that affects the connective tissues in your body. Itis a condition with no cure, but there are ways we can slow its progress. Immunosuppressants and steroids can help relieve symptoms and keep the condition from getting worse.
7. Thicker Skin
Another common symptom of scleroderma is thickening skin around your fingers. Because of the way scleroderma attacks your body, it can cause the skin around your fingers to grow in unusual ways. It may get thicker or tighter, making it difficult for you to move your hands.
You may notice that it gets progressively harder for you to straighten your fingers until your hand is stuck in a sort of claw position. Your fingers may also swell or feel swollen. It’s very important to go see a doctor before your hands harden into that claw position so that you give yourself the best shot at avoiding surgery.
8. Thumb Pain with opening doors and jar
If you are having pain around the thumb joint with opening doors and jars it’s most likely due to arthritis of the thumb joint, or arthritis of the carpomatecarpal joint (Basal Joint Osteoarthritis). Typically if you have pain in this joint, it is most commonly considered Osteoarthritis or “wear and tear” of the joint, and less likely an attack of your own body on the joint. The reason why this joint wears down sooner than others in the hand is because the basal joint has many degrees of rotation. The thumb is was makes humans unique, in that we have the ability to perform opposition or use the thumb to oppose the other fingers, in order to assist with grasping.
9. Difficulty Making A Fist
Hold your hand up now and try to make a fist with it. If you can do this easily and you have no other symptoms, your hands are probably fine. But if you have difficulty making a strong fist, it can be an indicator of a larger issue.
Several issues can cause difficulty making a fist. It can be a tendon, nerve, or joint problem. Carpal tunnel syndrome can make it hard for you to ball your hand into a fist as it weakens your hands. It could also be an indicator of early arthritis, whether osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. Likewise, if tenodns are inflamed, they can restrict the range of motion of the fingers. Go see a hand specialist who can diagnose you for certain and help you develop an effective treatment plan.
When To See A Doctor
Many of us tend to ignore hand pain, writing it off as something that will go away on its own. And in many cases, it might; most minor injuries will require only rest, ice, and time to heal. But you never want to ignore consistent, long-term pain.
If you continue to have pain in the same area of your hand or if you frequently have flare-ups in that area, you need to go see a doctor. You should also make an appointment if you notice any change in the function or strength of your hand. In general, it’s a better policy to see your doctor when you don’t need to than to avoid an appointment when you need one.
Why See A Hand Specialist
You may be wondering, though, why you have to go see a hand doctor in particular. Won’t your regular physician be able to address any issues you have? While your general practice doctor may be able to help with some basic problems, any more advanced issues will be better under the treatment of a hand specialist.
Your hand is an extraordinarily complex piece of your body, containing about a quarter of the total bones in your body. You have twenty-seven bones in each hand, and then there are extremely complex muscle and nerve systems, as well as blood vessels, ligaments, tendons, and other connective tissues. When you’re dealing with a problem in your hand, you want someone who is well-versed in all the intricate workings of this part of your body handling them.
What To Expect
When you go in for an appointment with a hand specialist, they’ll start by asking you some questions about your medical history. They’ll want to know about any conditions you have, any medications or other treatments you’re taking, and any surgeries. They’ll also need to know as much about your hand problem as you can tell them, so you may want to jot down a list of symptoms so you don’t forget anything.
Once they’re done talking with you about your medical history, your doctor may take some x-rays of your hand and perform a physical exam. They may order further testing, or they may be able to make a diagnosis right away. If they can give you an immediate diagnosis, they’ll be able to start recommending treatment options for your condition.
Different Treatment Options
There is a wide range of treatment options available for different types of hand conditions. For mild injuries or inflammation, your doctor may recommend ice and rest, and they may give you a splint or a prescription for pain medication. If you have a broken bone, they’ll set it and put it in a splint or cast.
More serious conditions may require more invasive treatments. Your doctor might need to give you injections or may recommend you start in physical therapy. For the most serious or advanced conditions, your doctor might recommend that you undergo surgery to restore full function.
Once again, your recovery time will depend in large part on the nature and severity of your problem. For a mild injury, a few days’ rest may put you back at full function. Fractures may take several weeks to heal and a couple of months to recover fully.
Hand surgery is no small procedure, especially since we rely on our hands so much for daily life. You can expect it to be at least three months before you regain full strength in your hand and up to six months before you have a full range of motion again. Physical therapy and following your doctor’s orders can go a long way towards making that recovery process quicker.
Benefits Of Seeking Treatment
Given that hand surgery has such a long recovery time, you may be wondering if it’s worth it to seek treatment. After all, you’re just having a little pain, and you can manage that with over-the-counter medications. But seeking treatment for hand pain sooner rather than later could help you avoid the operating room, not just land you in one.
Most of the hand conditions we discussed get worse over time, not better. If you go to see a doctor sooner, they might be able to recommend treatment options that don’t require surgery. But if you wait for too long, you may be risking permanent damage or at the least a more intensive treatment process.
How To Find A Hand Doctor
One of the best ways to find a hand doctor is to get a referral from your general practice physician. You can also look for good practices in your area and ask for a referral to a specific clinic. This way, you can be sure you’re getting the best treatment for your situation.
Get Your Pain Treated
Ignoring hand pain is never a good idea, and if you’ve been dealing with any of the symptoms we mentioned, you need to make an appointment with a hand doctor right away. They can provide you with treatment options to keep your hand as functional as possible. And if all other treatment options fail, hand surgery can restore a quality of life you may not have known for years.
If you’d like to see the best hand doctors, come see us at Hand Surgery Specialists of Texas. We provide comprehensive care from your shoulders to your fingertips. Schedule an appointment today and start getting your hand issues resolved by Houston’s leading hand surgeons.