Our hands are complex body parts and are made out of nerves, skin, ligaments, tendons, myriad bones, as well as other structures. All these structures allow the hand to perform different activities, which range from delicate manipulation and up to heavy lifting. As we need our hands for different and complex movements, the chances are higher for our hands to suffer an injury or suffer from certain conditions.
What causes hand pain?
There are different causes behind hand pain. Some conditions that might cause it to require medical treatment, while other causes of it can go away on their own with a little self-care. The most common conditions that can lead to hand pain include arthritis, a ligament injury, trigger finger or tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, ganglion cysts, injuries, Raynaud’s phenomenon, and Scleroderma.
The hand is the most common area of the body to suffer from arthritis and especially osteoarthritis. This is a part of the aging process and has to do with the loss of cartilage in the joints. The majority of people who are older than 60 years old suffer from some signs of osteoarthritis in the hands. There are however cases, where people develop the condition at an earlier age. Some symptoms of arthritis in the hand include cracking, popping, or grinding in the joints, joint inflammation, joint pain, joint stiffness, a limited range of motion, and eventually misaligned joints and a possible deformity.
Osteoarthritis is one of the most common joint conditions to affect the hand. Other types of arthritis can also affect the hand, such as rheumatoid arthritis. It is an autoimmune condition, which means that the immune system begins to attack the lining of the joints.
Tendonitis is a condition that occurs once a tendon is inflamed. It changes how the hand and fingers move, which can lead to pain and swelling. Tendonitis is in some cases caused by repetitive movements, whereas in others it is caused by an injury.
Tendons can sometimes develop hard lumps, which are other referred to as nodules and can feel through the skin. Such nodules can attach to other structures in the hand. This makes the fingers stick, whenever you try moving them. Once a tendon releases, it typically leads to a snapping sensation, which is known as the trigger finger. It is not always known what causes us.
Ligament injuries also often affect the hand. There are 27 bones in the hand, which are all connected by a network of ligaments. Whenever you suffer an injury to the hand, the chances are that the ligaments are hurt as well, which can make it difficult to grip, pinch or move the fingers. A ligament injury can take a couple of months before healing and some patients experience stiffness and swelling as well.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is another condition that leads to hand pain. Different nerves make it possible for the hand to feel the sensation. If one of them is compressed, it can lead to pain and it can reduce the function of the hand. One of the most common conditions that affect the hand is carpal tunnel syndrome. It is a condition that develops if there is damage or irritation to the median nerve in the wrist. Carpal tunnel syndrome can also lead to hand pain, tingling, or numbness, which is experienced in the thumb and fingers. Carpal tunnel syndrome pain can sometimes radiate up the arm and some patients experience clumsiness and weakness. It is a condition that in often cases is caused by repetitive stress, such as by scanning groceries, using a hammer, or typing extensively.
The hand is also vulnerable to different kinds of injuries, such as a muscle strain or a bone fracture. There are endless possibilities of injuring the hand, such as hands getting slammed in doors, fingers getting jammed into things or a hand getting stepped on.
A ganglion cyst can lead to pain which can also make it difficult to do normal movements. Ganglion cysts are common in the hands but their cause is often unknown. Raynaud’s phenomenon leads to the fingers reacting abnormally to colder temperatures. Some patients also suffer from tingling, swelling, or throbbing. There are cases where Raynaud’s phenomenon is caused by another condition, such as hypothyroidism, fibromyalgia, connective tissue disease, and others. Scleroderma is a condition that makes the skin and other organs harder. It can especially affect the hands and the face and one of its first symptoms is swelling in the muscles and joints of the hands.
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When to seek treatment?
In often cases, hand pain can go away with the use of only a few simple treatments. However, some conditions require more care and urgent care. You must speak to your doctor if you notice redness, fevers, and chills, as these are signs of infection. It is also important that you speak to a doctor if you notice deformity of the fingers and the hand after an injury, an inability to bend the fingers or to make a fist, worsening of the numbness in the hand and fingers, or pain that doesn’t improve with simple treatments.
How is hand pain diagnosed?
To diagnose hand pain, your doctor will first perform a physical exam and decide whether or not you need further tests. Some possible useful tests include an ultrasound, an X.ray, computed tomography scan, or magnetic resonance imaging tests. If your doctor suspects an infection, you might need to get blood tests.
How is hand pain managed?
If you suffer from hand pain, which isn’t an emergency, you might want to take some self-care measurements, which can help you heal, such as resting, putting ice on the affected area, or a heating pad. Resting can allow the inflammation to subside, ice can help to reduce pain and inflammation, while heat can help with achy muscles and stiff joints.
Over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen or naproxen can help to relieve pain and inflammation. In cases where medication and self-care don’t work, you might need to have further treatment, such as prescription medication, splints, or hand therapy. A hand therapist can help you by showing you different ways of treating hand conditions and preventing them from recurring. A splint or brace can allow the damaged area to heal, by allowing it to rest and preventing sudden movements. Some patients require prescription drugs, such as stronger painkillers, oral steroids, or corticosteroid injections.
Some cases of hand conditions might require surgery, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, severe breaks, and torn muscles or connective tissues.
In conclusion, it is very important that we take care of the function of our hands, as they are so necessary for our everyday activities. If you experience pain and self-care measurements don’t seem to work, you must seek medical treatment. Some causes of hand pain require immediate treatment, as leaving them untreated can only worsen the condition.
The information on this website is to provide general information. In no way does any of the information provided reflect definitive treatment advice. It is essential to consult a best-in-class pain management specialist in New York regarding ANY questions or issues. A thorough evaluation should ALWAYS be performed for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Be sure to call your pain doctor to schedule a consultation.
Dr. Raj Raval, M.D.
- Board Certified
- Interventional Pain & Musculoskeletal Medicine Specialist
Education & training
- SUNY Downstate PMR Residency
- Rutgers University Fellowship