The Common Causes of Hand Pain (and What to Do About It)

causes of hand pain

We’ve evolved to do so much with our hands that we often take them for granted. When severe hand pain hits us, it impacts our lives no matter who we are.

There are many causes of hand pain. Some are genetic, while others result from overuse and trauma or injury. Certain conditions like arthritis become more common as we age.

Those like carpal tunnel can get mitigated by rest and better practice. Knowing the causes of hand pain will help you find the best way to treat them. Read on for an in-depth guide to the most common causes of hand pain.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

One of the most common hand issues is Carpal tunnel syndrome. This condition is a form of nerve disorder. Often what triggers it is frequent and repetitive hand motions.

The most common image of getting carpal tunnel syndrome is from typing-heavy jobs. In times gone by, this would have been from working on a typewriter all day. Secretaries, news article writers, and similar jobs were all at risk.

These days technology has changed, but not the motions. Office work can wreak havoc on the body, especially via posture. Having your hands and wrists in the typing position all day can cause great discomfort.

Long hours bent over a keyboard and typing causes stress to your median nerve. The same is true of any job that requires lots of hand movement. This includes swinging a hammer or passing groceries through the checkout scanner.

Your median nerve runs the length of your arm and gets constricted at your wrist. It controls the muscles of a good chunk of your hand. The tight constriction it passes through is the carpal tunnel.

The median nerve can get inflamed through constant stress and pressure. If constant wrist and hand movements cause this to happen in the carpal tunnel, it can feel extra painful.

The symptoms range from a slight tingling or electric feeling to intense pain. Often carpal tunnel syndrome is debilitating to work and life. It can also cause weakness in the wrist and hands and a lack of coordination.

Treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Treating carpal tunnel is easiest with rest and relaxation. Taking a break from the repetitive action to let your wrist and hand recover is key. This can mean work, but it can also mean hobbies or any sports training that could also be responsible.

For quick pain relief, aspirin or similar meds can help. Some people have found that icing the wrist can help with the pain. However, soaking it in warm water and gently flexing your muscles can also help release tension.

It’s important to help your wrist and hand relax. Wrist braces are great for this, especially if the condition has become moderate. Usually, a full month of use will achieve noticeable improvement, as long as you’re careful not to abuse your hand while it’s healing.

Steroids and physical therapy are also both options if the condition feels unmanageable. Steroids like cortisone are great for reducing inflammation but aren’t long-term. Therapy can give you exercises to help strengthen your muscles and improve.

Hand pain surgery is your last line of defense. Doctors usually ask patients to try other methods for at least six months. This, of course, depends on severity and levels of pain.

The most typical procedure is carpal tunnel release surgery. This is when your doctor severs the ligament above the carpal tunnel, releasing pressure. This ligament will repair itself, but now there will be more room for your median nerve.

Arthritis

Arthritis is among the most common causes of hand pain, especially for the elderly. Arthritis in your hand joints is the most common type. Arthritis has various causes itself, but in general, they all impact your joints.

It causes pain and inflammation, which makes even daily tasks difficult. Stiffness, limited mobility, and unusual cracking or grinding sounds are typical.

Your joints have something called cartilage. This allows them to rub and grind against each other with no issues. Arthritis deteriorates your cartilage, resulting in painful friction and swelling.

Arthritis doesn’t only hit older people either. It can develop earlier as a result of injury, and genetic factors are also at play. Rheumatoid arthritis is autoimmune in nature and can strike anyone.

Treating hand pain caused by arthritis is tricky but possible. In most cases, it’s a matter of delaying deterioration and strengthening your hand and joints. Pain medication and anti-inflammatories can help in the short term for flare-ups.

Using splints for the affected parts of our hands can also provide relief. One of the best ways, however, is via physical therapy.

Careful strengthening of your joints and hands can help you combat arthritis. It’s especially useful when you experience weakness in your hands or fingers. If all else fails, surgery is always an option, but talk about alternatives with your doctor first.

Tendonitis

Tendonitis goes by many different names, especially depending on where it is. When it impacts your fingers, it often goes by the name “trigger finger“. To understand tendonitis, it’s worth learning about how the fingers work.

Your fingers don’t actually have any muscles. They have tendons, which are sinewy ropes that the muscles in your forearm tug on. This tug is what bends and moves your fingers.

Tendonitis happens when there’s serious swelling or inflammation around those tendons. This impacts the stimuli from your forearm and can cause pain or stiffness. You’ll notice that bending them is difficult or painful.

You might also notice that your fingers lock at the joints, sometimes having to be manually reset by hand. This locking, in particular, is a hallmark of trigger finger. You might also notice little lumps around the affected tendons that you can feel when you touch them.

Doctors aren’t sure what causes these lumps. Since they’re similar to those found in arthritis, it could have an autoimmune factor. Some conditions like diabetes also increase the risk.

Most often, injuries and trauma to the fingers and tendons are the cause.

Origins and Treatment

The origin of the term “trigger finger” is debatable. Some claim it comes from the long hours spent by hunters, soldiers, or sports. Always having their fingers bent around the trigger or locked in the safe position leads to stiffness and swelling.

The best hand pain treatment for tendonitis is rest and sometimes the help of a splint. Painkillers can help with pain, while steroids can release tension. Like many other causes, surgery is an option but usually only a last resort.

The most important thing is to see if you can isolate if it was trauma or injury caused. Like carpal tunnel syndrome, reducing the burden of those activities will be key.

Raynaud’s Phenomenon

While Raynaud’s phenomenon might sound like some rare disease, it’s pretty common. It impacts around 20% of the global adult population. If you’re the kind of person whose hands and feet are always cold, you might have a mild version of this condition.

Raynaud’s phenomenon causes your toes and fingers to turn colder and more numb than usual. The triggers for this vary, but exposure to colder temperatures or simple stress can do it. Doctors aren’t sure what causes someone to have the condition, but it’s likely genetic.

What this condition does is take a normal body response and turn the dial to 11.

Going into More Detail

Usually, when you’re cold, your body reacts by trying to save as much heat as possible. It restricts blood flow to your skin and extremities to keep your core warmer for longer. This means less blood and warmth to your hands and feet, which is how frostbite happens.

Raynaud’s makes your body respond way more than normal. Your blood vessels will constrict much more, and the tightness can cause issues. The most common symptoms of an acute case of Raynaud’s go beyond coldness.

Your fingers can change color, becoming reddish, whitish, or even blue. The lack of circulation can cause throbbing or tingling. Many describe this feeling in their fingers like the pins and needles when your feet are asleep.

In the most severe cases, you can even get gangrene or damage and death of tissue. That said, severe cases are rare. The vast majority of people with Raynaud’s have the milder version.

The pain caused by Raynaud’s is often more annoying than it is agonizing. Anyone who has had a foot fall asleep knows exactly what we mean. The best way to treat Raynaud’s phenomenon is by staying warm.

Wear gloves and warm socks and boots, especially in cold weather. Keep a hand warmer with you to help stop your fingers from numbing. If you have a severe case, talk to your doctor about further options like surgery.

De Quervain’s Tendinitis

In many respects, this condition is similar to carpal tunnel, but with a big difference. It only impacts and creates pain in the side of your wrist where your thumb is. The pain can vary in intensity and go from the tip of the thumb all the way to the forearm.

This pain is a result of inflammation of the tendons in the wrist. Like with trigger finger or carpal tunnel, the key causes are often overused.

You’ll know if you have it because making a fist will trigger serious pain. Holding onto or squeezing objects will also be agonizing, as will turning your wrist.

A common way to get it other than overuse is via injuries. Wrist fractures, in particular, can lead to De Quervain’s tendinitis.

Treating this condition works like most others of its type. For pain, use painkillers, anti-inflammatories, and steroid shots. To improve the condition, rest your thumb and wrist, and use a splint to help.

Hand Injuries

When it comes to causes of hand pain, hand injuries top the list. It sounds like common sense, but not every hand injury is obvious. Fractures and breaks can both feel super painful and come with tons of swelling.

It’s also super easy to pull a hand or finger muscle. This is especially true when trying to reach for something or manipulating a heavy object. The key problem is figuring out where it came from.

Sometimes you drop something on your hand and know it’s broken. Other times you might bang it on something and not realize it until a while later. Muscle strains and bruises can take a while to develop, making it tricky to track down what happened.

Try to isolate the possibilities if you can’t think of an obvious reason why your hand hurts. Give your hand a gentle flex and see if you experience pain anywhere else. If you feel it in the wrist, it could be carpal tunnel, for example.

If your muscles or joints feel stiff and “stuck,” it could be tendonitis. If you experience severe pain when touching specific fingers or areas, it might be a fracture or a break. Lesser pain can be a sprain, but not always.

As far as treatment for hand injuries goes, put some ice on it and rest. Sprains or pulled muscles will get better on their own. See your doctor if the pain is intense or you have reason to suspect a fracture or break.

The Most Common Causes of Hand Pain

There are far more common causes of hand pain than anyone would think. Many of these are the result of injuries caused by trauma, overuse, or repetitive stress to your hands. Many of them also have genetic or somewhat unexplained origins, but you can treat them.

It helps to have reliable hand specialists you can count on to help get you through the worst conditions. At the Hand Surgery Specialists of Texas, we have the knowledge and experience you need. For inquiries or any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us today.

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