Top 10 Reasons to Visit a Hand Doctor

hand doctor

It’s normal to experience a little pain or stiffness in your hands from time to time. The hands are some of the most complex parts of the human body, made up of an intricate network of tiny bones, muscles, and ligaments to allow for their incredible dexterity and range of movement.

With so many small, moving parts, it’s not unreasonable for your hands to feel a little sore after extensive use.

But some issues may be a warning of serious injury. If you’re experiencing any of the following problems, it’s time to make an appointment with a hand doctor.

1. Pain That Keeps You Up at Night

If you’re wondering “should I go to a hand doctor” in the first place, you’re probably experiencing aches and pains in one or both hands. As we mentioned earlier, mild pain in your hands isn’t necessarily a sign of an underlying medical problem. With all the small muscles and ligaments in the human hand, pain is usually the result of overexertion.

That said, sharp, persistent pain that keeps you up at night should be treated more seriously.

There are a few potential causes. Injuries like sprains, strains, dislocations, and fractures are common culprits. While dislocations and fractures may cause immediate, severe pain, sprains and strains can be mild by comparison, leading individuals to try to “tough it out” and carry on with their daily activities.

But no matter how manageable you think the injury is, pain that keeps you up through the night is a clear sign that it’s time to visit a hand doctor. Seeking treatment will not only ensure that the injury heals properly, but may help reduce your overall recovery time.

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is another possible cause of overnight hand pain.

CTS occurs when the median nerve—which runs from the forearm to the palm—becomes pressed or squeezed at the wrist. When we sleep, many people tend to curl their wrists, often keeping their hands in that position for long periods. This puts pressure on the median nerve, helping contribute to CTS and causing pain throughout the night or upon waking in the morning.

2. Limited Motion in Your Fingers or Wrist

A reduced range of motion in your fingers, hand, or wrist should always be treated as a significant warning sign. Like with general pain, this symptom can have multiple causes, and a doctor will need to examine you to find the root of the problem.

For example, tendonitis is a common cause of hand doctor visits. Tendinitis occurs when a tendon—a thick cord that attaches bone to muscle—becomes inflamed or irritated. It can result from either a sudden injury or frequent, repetitive motions and impacts.

On the other hand, if you experience pain when you try to straighten your fingers or notice an audible “click” or “pop” when you move your fingers, then the culprit may be a condition called “trigger finger.”

Like tendinitis, trigger finger occurs when the tendons become inflamed. This makes it difficult or impossible for the tendons to glide through small tunnels in the fingers called pulleys.

Restricted motion is only one sign of trigger finger. Other common symptoms to look out for include pain of varying severity, a lump or nodule at the base of the digit, or permanently bent fingers.

3. Dropping Things More Than Usual

Everyone has the occasional clumsy moment. But if you start dropping things more often than normal, it might be time to make an appointment with a hand doctor. This is particularly true if you can’t explain why you’re suddenly dropping things so often.

Frequently dropping objects for no obvious reason can be another warning sign of CTS. This is because, as the median nerve is compressed, you may experience sudden weakness in your hands. This weakness may get worse as the nerve gets more compressed, so be sure to reach out to a doctor before it becomes a serious quality-of-life issue.

4. Your Fingers Start Turning White

You’ve probably noticed that when you’re in chilly conditions, your fingers and toes tend to feel the cold first. That’s because when we get cold, our bodies pull blood into our core to keep vital organs warm, reducing blood flow to our extremities.

However, if your fingers turn white in cold climates, this could be a sign of an underlying condition called Raynaud’s phenomenon.

This condition causes blood vessels in the extremities to narrow in response to cold temperatures or excessive stress. Narrowed blood vessels mean reduced blood flow, resulting in the extremities turning pale or white.

Attacks of Raynaud’s phenomenon tend to resolve a short time after a person removes themselves from the cold or stressful situation that triggered the event. However, those who experience Raynaud’s phenomenon often suffer from an underlying autoimmune problem, such as scleroderma.

So while Raynaud’s phenomenon itself is usually not serious, it may be a sign of a more significant health issue.

5. Pain, Swelling, or Redness That Gets Worse With Activity

If a patient is trying to figure out when to visit a hand doctor, the deciding factor will be if symptoms are interfering with their daily activities. Hence, pain swelling, or redness that gets worse with activity are all common complaints at hand doctor visits.

These conditions can have several causes. Injuries like sprains and strains are common culprits. But they can also be signs of chronic conditions like arthritis of the hand.

The joints in our body, including our hands, are normally cushioned with cartilage. This allows them to rub against each other without causing pain or discomfort. When the cartilage wears down, we may experience painful friction, swelling, and stiffness in the joint.

Arthritis tends to develop as a person ages, particularly in individuals over the age of 40. But it can affect people of any age, with genetics or injuries to the joints both being potential triggers. And rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune condition that causes the body to attack its own joints, can manifest in anyone at any stage of life.

Other conditions, like tendinitis, CTS, and even Raynaud’s phenomenon can likewise cause pain, swelling, and discoloration that gets worse with activity. Because there are so many potential causes, you’ll need to visit a hand doctor to identify the source of the problem and prescribe a course of treatment.

6. Pain That Extends Up to the Elbow

Sometimes, pain in the hand or wrist is a sign of an injury elsewhere in that limb.

Tennis elbow is a good example. This is a painful condition caused by the inflammation of the tendons that run along the outer top side of the forearm. Like other similar injuries, it tends to occur when those tendons are overloaded by repetitive movements.

Despite the name, tennis elbow doesn’t only affect athletes. Anyone who has to perform repetitive movements of the elbow for long periods can develop the condition. Painters, plumbers, butchers, and other physical laborers are common patients.

Even though it’s called tennis elbow, this type of injury can cause pain in the wrist and hand as well. That’s because the affected tendons connect to the extensor muscles that are used to straighten the fingers. The pain and weakness caused can make it difficult to perform simple tasks like gripping a doorknob or holding a coffee cup.

Mild to moderate cases can usually be treated with rest, physical therapy, and medication.

7. Tingling or Numbness in the Hand

Pain isn’t the only symptom that you should be on the lookout for. Tingling or numbness in the hands can be a sign of several significant conditions.

One common cause is the compression of a major nerve, usually from CTS. If a person suffers from CTS for long enough, the strain may damage the median nerve. This can result in an unpleasant tingling sensation in the hand and fingers.

A pinched nerve near the spine can also cause tingling or numbness in the hand. For example, a slipped cervical disc near the base of the skull can cause you to lose feeling in your hands or arms. A doctor will need to conduct an examination to determine where the compression is occurring and what your treatment options are.

Tingling or numbness in the extremities may also be a long-term symptom of diabetes. This is because chronic high blood sugar can increase the risk of nerve damage, particularly in the fingers and toes. But if it’s caught early, diabetes is manageable and most individuals can limit their risk of serious complications like nerve damage.

Tingling or numbness in the hands can also be a sign of other, less common disorders. Certain autoimmune conditions, for example, can cause the body to attack and damage its own nerves. And rare genetic conditions like Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease—a degenerative muscle condition—can also cause tingling and numbness.

It’s important to have persistent tingling and numbness checked out to identify any of these potential causes.

8. Loss of Muscle Tone in the Hand

Noticeable muscle atrophy—or the significant loss of muscle mass or definition—should always be treated as a serious warning sign. When this muscle loss is localized in the hand, it’s often a symptom of severe CTS.

This phenomenon is called carpal tunnel atrophy. It can result from CTS being left unchecked for so long that the muscles and nerves of the hands begin to degrade.

Individuals living with carpal tunnel atrophy may notice an indentation at the base of the thumb. This indentation occurs as the muscles in that area start to shrink.

Dry skin on the hands may be another warning sign. This is because, as the nerves start to atrophy, the hands will sweat less. This causes an overall drop in the moisture in the hands and makes them dry out faster than they should.

Carpal tunnel atrophy is a serious warning symptom of late-stage carpal tunnel. At this stage, reducing or reversing the damage done may still be possible, but individuals need to seek immediate medical intervention.

9. Major Lacerations

Receiving a significant cut on a fleshy part of the body may be painful, but rarely causes permanent damage. Body parts like arms and legs have plenty of fat and large muscles, so lacerations to them can often be treated with minimal risk of long-term effects.

The hands, by contrast, are much more vulnerable. Because there are so many small, delicate muscles and tendons in the hand, it’s easy for a large cut to damage an important structure.

You may remember hearing about a phenomenon called “avocado hand” a few years ago. The fruit became quite popular thanks to its nutritional profile and creamy flavor. But with that popularity came an upswing in individuals injuring their hands trying to slice avocados.

While that may sound comical, some of these injuries could be quite severe. Particularly unfortunate individuals would severe important tendons or even pierce their hands.

Avocado hand is only one specific example of how individuals may suffer severe lacerations to the hand. Anyone who cooks or handles simple household maintenance can likewise experience significant cuts or tears.

This caliber of injury often needs to be repaired by a hand surgeon. And even if surgery is not needed, a hand specialist may insist on immobilizing your hand to allow it to heal properly.

10. Traumatic Injury to the Hand

Alongside large cuts, crushing and blunt force injuries to the hand can be problematic.

The hands and wrists are home to the smallest and most delicate bones in the human body. It doesn’t take a lot of force to cause fractures.

Treating a broken hand or finger as soon as possible is essential to a positive outcome. If the bones don’t heal correctly, it can result in a permanent deformity or loss of movement. Individuals with improperly healed breaks may struggle to perform basic tasks like writing or buttoning a shirt.

Warning signs to look for are severe pain that gets worse when you use the hand, swelling, significant bruising, or an obvious deformity like a crooked finger.

Find a Qualified Hand Doctor Near You

It’s always important to listen to your body. Persistent aches, pains, and other ongoing symptoms may be your body telling you that something is seriously wrong.

If you’re experiencing any of these issues, seeing a hand doctor as soon as possible is crucial. The sooner the cause of your symptoms can be identified, the better your chance of having a positive outcome. To take the first step, find the best Houston hand doctor near you today.

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The Hand Surgery Specialists of Texas offers diagnosis and treatment for hand, wrist, and elbow problems in Houston, using the most advanced and minimally invasive medical techniques. Our orthopedic hand specialists and hand and finger surgeons are waiting to provide you with excellent care at one of our hand care centers in River Oaks, Webster, North Houston, Katy/Sugarland, or Baytown

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