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What Causes Wrist Pain

The wrist is a complex system of joints, bones, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and bursae. Unnatural compression or damage to any one of these structures can cause severe wrist pain. In some cases, RICE therapy (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) can alleviate pain. For many conditions, regenerative wrist treatments relieve pain, improve strength, and increase mobility. In severe cases, surgery may be required to restore function, strength, and mobility. 

Let’s explore what causes wrist pain, how to prevent it, and when to seek medical treatment.

Understanding Wrist Anatomy and Function

The wrist is a highly complex structure comprising eight small wrist bones and two long forearm bones. The fibrous tissues connecting the bones are ligaments, and those connecting the muscles to the bones are tendons. Two bursae, or fluid-filled sacs, surround the wrist joints, reducing friction, while cartilage supports and stabilizes the wrist. 

The muscles, ligaments, and tendons responsible for wrist motions, finger movements, dexterity, and fine motor control all pass through the wrist region. Nerves coordinate these movements and transmit signals between the brain and the muscles to control movement and convey sensory information. An injury, degeneration, or compression of any critical components can cause excruciating pain.

Common Causes of Wrist Pain

There are many possible answers to the question, “Why does my wrist hurt?” Here are some of the most common causes:

Repetitive strain injuries (RSIs)

Repetitive strain injuries from typing, tennis, golf, playing an instrument, knitting, painting, manual labor, and similar activities are common causes of wrist pain. These injuries occur when we repeat the same muscle movements over and over again without allowing sufficient recovery time. Further, poor posture, lack of conditioning, and the intensity and duration of the activity can cause microtrauma or small tears or fractures in the components of the wrist joint, leading to significant pain and loss of joint function. 

 Carpal tunnel syndrome, flexor carpi radialis tendonitis, and De Quervain tenosynovitis are all examples of repetitive stress injuries of the wrist.

Injuries

Injuries related to sports, activities, falls, and car accidents are also common causes of wrist pain, most commonly resulting in strains, sprains, and bone fractures. Sprains and strains can often be treated successfully with RICE and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. Some wrist fractures can be set and immobilized without surgery. However, many injuries require surgical repair. 

Arthritis

Another potential cause of wrist pain is arthritis, which also causes swelling and stiffness. Osteoarthritis (OA) is the deterioration of the cartilage resulting from wear and tear. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune condition that causes the body to attack the joint lining, causing inflammation, deformity, and severe pain. RA typically affects both wrists and is accompanied by fatigue and fever. Early diagnosis and intervention are critical for pain management and preserving wrist function.

Other Causes

Ganglion cysts are noncancerous growths that occur on the joints and tendons of the wrist or hand. If a ganglion cyst presses on a nerve, it can cause pain, numbness, or tingling sensations. 

Nerve compression or infections in the bone or joint can also cause significant pain.

Recognizing Wrist Pain Symptoms

Wrist pain can manifest in several ways, from a dull, persistent ache to sudden, sharp, and intense pain. You may experience a steady throbbing or a quick, stabbing pain. Burning, tingling, and numbness can also occur along with painful stiffness and weakness of the joint or muscle. 

It can be frustrating when a doctor asks you to describe your pain or give it a numerical rating, but these basic diagnostic tools can provide tremendous insight into the nature and cause of your wrist pain.

Risk Factors and Prevention Tips

Regularly performing repetitive tasks with your fingers, hands, and wrists is the single most significant risk factor for developing wrist pain. Poor ergonomics and incorrect posture can further increase the likelihood of developing a repetitive stress injury. Sports and activities involving falls, advanced age, or poor general health can also lead to wrist pain.

To prevent wrist pain:

  • Make ergonomic adjustments to ensure proper posture and wrist support.
  • Strengthen the muscles of the wrist and forearm.
  • Stretch wrist and forearm muscles gently and frequently.
  • Take frequent breaks from repetitive tasks to rest and stretch your wrists.
  • Use proper techniques for sports, typing, playing an instrument, etc

The 20-20-20 rule is valuable when performing repetitive tasks: every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break to look at something 20 feet away. Stand up, gently stretch, then resume your task.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Wrist Pain

Regardless of what causes wrist pain, it is essential to seek medical attention if it impairs daily activities like bathing and dressing or interferes with your work. Your description of your pain and the conditions under which it occurs will guide your doctor in assessing the problem. 

The doctor will likely examine your wrist and conduct imaging: either an X-ray, ultrasound, or both. Once they have a diagnosis, they will discuss your treatment options with you. These may include RICE, immobilization with a brace, physical therapy, steroid injections, regenerative therapy, or surgery. Your treatment plan will be personalized to your specific condition and needs. 

Wrist Pain Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

When should I worry about a hurt wrist?

If your wrist pain impairs your daily activities, persists despite rest, or you have diabetes, it is essential to seek medical attention. Numbness, tingling, or a high fever associated with wrist pain are also reasons for prompt medical attention.

What should I not do with a hurt wrist?

If you experience wrist pain, do not ignore the pain and continue the activities that caused it. Rest and elevate your wrist. Do not apply heat, which can cause swelling. Instead, apply ice for 15 to 20 minutes, once an hour.

How should I sleep to avoid wrist pain?

When you have wrist pain, sleeping on your back, with your wrists in a neutral position and your fingers unclenched, is the best position. Consider wearing a soft brace at night to prevent awkward positioning during sleep for severe wrist pain..

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Supplements can boost your overall joint health as part of a general fitness program. However, they are particularly valuable for treating damaged or inflamed and painful joints. The Arthritis Foundation finds that joint health supplements show promise for relieving pain, stiffness, and other symptoms of arthritis.

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* Please allow 30-60 minutes of allotted time to meet with a specialist to determine if you are a candidate for our services. Exams are included and are complimentary. By providing your phone number, you agree to receive recurring automated promotional and personalized marketing text messages (e.g. cart/browse reminders) from QC Kinetix at the cell number used when signing up. Consent is not a condition of any purchase. Reply HELP for help and STOP to cancel. Msg frequency varies.
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