Wrist pain has a prevalence rate of about 19.1% among adults. From typing to writing, your wrist plays a vital role in basic movements.
Although it is a small part of your body, it comprises several bones, ligaments, and tendons. This makes it a somewhat delicate area. Most people experience occasional wrist pain at some point in their lives.
But it can be a chronic issue for some. When chronic wrist pain occurs, it can interfere with your day-to-day activities and even impact your quality of life.
Need relief for the pain? Below is a guide that discusses possible causes of wrist pain and the treatment options available.
Causes of Chronic Wrist Pain
There are several possible causes of chronic wrist pain. Common causes include injury and diseases. These include:
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome develops when one of the major nerves in your hand — the median nerve — becomes squeezed or compressed. This puts pressure on a nerve, causing pain, weakness, and numbness.
If you suffer from certain medical conditions like diabetes, obesity, or arthritis, you are at an increased risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Performing repetitive work such as sewing or typing can also cause carpal tunnel syndrome.
When you experience inflammation of bursae—small fluid-filled sacs that help cushion your joints —you can develop wrist bursitis. Symptoms of the condition include tenderness, redness, and swelling.
De Quervain’s Disease
De Quervain’s disease or tendinosis is a condition where the tendon sheaths and tendons near the base of your thumb swell. It can lead to severe hand pain over time.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that can affect your wrists. It occurs when your body’s immune system attacks healthy joints and tissues.
This can lead to pain and swelling in your wrists. Additionally, it can limit the functioning of your wrists.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that causes the cartilage that covers the joints to wear away. The condition can affect several joints, including your wrist.
As a result the bones of the joint rub against each other, increasing friction. This causes swelling and pain.
Repetitive Strain Injury
Repetitive strain injury develops as a result of repetitive tasks such as knitting, knitting, and more. Overusing the joints in your wrists can cause them to swell, exerting pressure on surrounding nerves.
Kienbock’s disease is a rare bone ailment that affects the lunate bone— one of the eight bones in your wrist. The condition stops the lunate bone from getting the necessary amount of blood supply. This can lead to bone death.
As a result, your wrist movements can reduce. What’s more, you can experience pain and swelling in your wrist. This rare disorder commonly affects men between the ages of 20 and 40.
Overstraining tendons in your wrist can cause them to sprain. This damage to the muscles usually causes pain and swelling.
Triangular Fibrocartilage Complex Injury
Located towards your pinky finger, the triangular fibrocartilage complex acts as a support and cushion for the small bones. The cartilage can tear because of an impact injury or wear down over time. If you get a triangular fibrocartilage complex injury, you will often experience pain down the small finger side of your wrist.
Wrist tendonitis happens as a result of small tears in the tendons of your wrist. This can lead to irritation, localized inflammation, and pain. The condition develops due to wear and tear or sudden, sharp injuries.
Ganglion cysts are lumps that occur most often in the hand, especially on the back of your wrist. The condition is usually painless. But if the cyst presses on a nerve, it can cause pain, tingling, muscle weakness, or numbness.
An injury to your wrist can also cause chronic pain. One way you can injure your wrists is by falling and catching yourself with your hands. The pain you will experience near the wrist may be a result of ligament tears, fractures, or bone damage.
Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis caused by a buildup of uric acid. This excess uric acid can deposit in the joints of your wrist, resulting in pain and swelling.
When gout causes hand pain, you may not be able to use your wrists normally. The pain can make it hard to move your wrists or even hold items. Gout can cause deformity of your wrist joints in severe cases.
Treatment Options for Chronic Wrist Pain
If you suffer from chronic wrist pain, you can visit a hand doctor to get relief. Some treatment options that your physician may recommend include:
Exercise can help you strengthen the muscles and joints in your wrist. This can help improve flexibility and range of motion as well as alleviate pain. Some exercises you can perform to lessen wrist pain are:
- Wrist flexion: Hold a soda can or a one-pound dumbbell in your hand with your palm facing up, and slowly bend your wrist upward
- Wrist extension: Hold a lightweight or a soda can in your hand, and slowly bend your wrist downward
- Wrist deviation: With your elbow straight, hold your hand out in front of you and slowly move it from side to side
- Wrist circles: Hold your arm out in front of you and make small circles
- Grip strengthening: Squeeze a rubber ball and hold for 5 seconds
Ensure you do these exercises under the guidance of a physical therapist for proper technique. Your physical therapist will likely adjust the exercises depending on your progress.
Physical therapy can be an effective treatment for chronic wrist pain. A physical therapist will evaluate the cause of your pain and develop a treatment plan to help reduce inflammation. They may use a variety of modalities to help reduce pain associated with chronic wrist pain, including:
This therapy involves applying heat to increase blood flow in the affected area. It can help reduce pain and stiffness. To deliver heat to your wrist, you can utilize hot water bottles, warm packs, heating pads, or warm baths.
Cold therapy can be an effective way to reduce inflammation. It can numb your sore joints, almost acting as an anesthetic. You can use an ice pack, ice baths, or coolant sprays to deliver cold to the wrist.
Therapeutic ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to provide deep heating to soft tissues in your wrists. It can help to increase blood flow, reduce inflammation and promote healing. This therapy is usually done before performing range of motion exercises since it helps to improve the ability of your wrists to stretch.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy involves using low-voltage electric currents to treat wrist pain. A small device delivers electric impulses, blocking or changing your perception of pain.
Several medications can treat chronic wrist pain, including over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. You can get stronger pain relievers through a prescription. Here are some prescription medications for chronic wrist pain:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Tricyclic antidepressants (such as amitriptyline)
- Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
- Anticonvulsants (such as gabapentin or pregabalin)
Make sure you consult with a doctor to determine the appropriate dosage for your medication.
Corticosteroid injections are a popular type of injection used to treat chronic wrist pain. These injections deliver a concentrated dose of anti-inflammatory medication directly to the affected area. As a result, you can feel pain relief.
The injection is usually given under the guidance of imaging such as ultrasound or fluoroscopy. It helps ensure that the needle is placed in the correct location.
While corticosteroid injections are effective, long-term use can lead to side effects. It is always best to consult with your hand doctor to determine whether these injections are appropriate for your condition and how often you should receive them.
Bracing or Splinting
Wearing a brace or splint can help to rest your wrist, reducing pain. When you wear a wrist brace or splint, it can immobilize your joint and reduce the strain on the affected area. You can also use it to support the wrist during activities that may exacerbate the pain.
There are different types of braces and splints available for the wrist, such as:
They’re worn to keep the wrist in a fixed position. You can use them for conditions that require immobility such as fractures.
These splints allow for a limited range of motion. As a result, it can improve your mobility and strength.
It’s advisable to wear these splints at night. They help maintain an appropriate position of your wrist and fingers while you sleep.
Your doctor will recommend the best type of brace or splint for your condition. They will also provide instruction on how to properly use it. Additionally, braces and splints are often used in combination with other wrist treatments.
If your hand pain is severe, surgery may be a viable option. Some common surgical procedures for wrist pain include:
Carpal Tunnel Release Surgery
Carpal tunnel release surgery is done to relieve pressure on the median nerve. It involves releasing the pressure on the nerve by cutting the ligament that forms the roof of the carpal tunnel. This creates more space for the nerve and tendons.
As a result, your median nerve decompresses and the pain symptoms reduce over time.
Wrist arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure. It allows your surgeon to view the inside of the wrist joint using a small camera called an arthroscope.
As a result, they can diagnose and treat a variety of conditions that affect your wrist joint. These include ligament injuries, cartilage tears, and osteoarthritis.
Wrist fusion is often used to treat severe arthritis of the wrist. The surgery involves fusing the bones of the wrist to form one solid bone. The hand surgeon can perform the surgery on part of the wrist or the entire wrist.
Triquetral Bone Fracture Fixation Surgery
This procedure is typically performed to correct fractures of the triquetral bone. While this fracture is uncommon, it can occur due to a fall or direct trauma.
During the triquetral bone fracture fixation surgery, the surgeon will realign your bone fragments and hold them in place with screws, pins, or plates. This will help promote healing.
Ganglion Cyst Excision
The treatment of ganglion cysts can involve the removal of the cyst through surgery. The surgeon will make an incision over the cyst and remove it along with the stalk that attaches it to the joint or the tendon sheath. It’s important to remove the stalk so that the cyst doesn’t fill back with fluid.
De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis Release Surgery
De Quervain’s tenosynovitis release is a surgical procedure that aims to relieve the pressure on the tendons.
When a surgeon performs the procedure, they will make a small incision on the side of the wrist. Next, they will divide the band of tissue that surrounds the tendons to allow more room for them to move. This can help to decrease inflammation and pain.
Wrist surgery is usually a last resort. Your hand doctor may recommend it only after conservative treatments have failed.
Alternative Treatments for Chronic Wrist Pain
If you have chronic wrist pain and are looking for alternatives to medication and surgery, you have a variety of options. Some examples include:
This is an ancient Chinese medicine procedure. It involves inserting thin needles into the skin at specific points on the body known as acupuncture points or acupoints. Acupuncture can help alleviate wrist pain.
It involves the manipulation of the soft tissues of the wrist to promote relaxation. This improves circulation and relieves pain.
You can also use herbal supplements, such as turmeric or ginger, to help manage your wrist pain.
Remember these alternative treatments are not a substitute for professional medical care. Ensure you consult your doctor before you try them.
Get Quick Relief for Chronic Wrist Pain
If your hand hurts, the aforementioned treatment options can help you get relief. Before you start treatment, consult your hand doctor. At Hand Surgery Specialists of Texas, we are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of chronic wrist pain.
Contact us today to book an appointment.