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When is Wrist Pain Serious?


With the flick of the wrist, a cricketer plays masterstrokes that make the team win matches. The same wrist is as work when you sweep and dust to keep your house clean. Our wrists do much more than just exist as a part of our bodies from where we can feel our pulse. Every time you want to know the time you look at your wrist, every time you hold something it involves your wrist. From typing to writing, cooking and even playing sports, our wrists make sure we are able to seamlessly move our hands to our needs. So when the wrists start to hurt, that’s when we realise exactly how much it contributes to a good quality of life for us.  

So what can cause wrist pain? And what are the ways in which you can treat them?

What is Wrist Pain?

The wrist is a joint, connecting your hand and forearm. The wrist joint is made up of many small bones, which enable you to bend, straighten and rotate your hand. If you experience pain, numbness or tingling sensation in this region, then you are suffering from wrist pain. However, there is no need to be concerned about this pain as it is completely treatable. So now let us understand what are the reasons behind this pain in the next section.

As per the research carried out on risk factors associated with wrist pain by experts at the BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, it was observed that women (14.7%) have a higher risk of getting wrist pain than men (5.6%). The study also indicated that those employed in manual labour and those who work out with weights are at a higher risk of getting wrist pain.


What Causes Wrist Pain?

Primarily any trauma impact on any part of the body will make it painful. So, if you have experienced a fall, and you have landed on your wrist, then it is bound to pain, due to the stress and trauma exposed to it. An X-ray will reveal whether this impact resulted in a sprain, fracture, or partial ligament disruption.

causes of wrist pain

Otherwise, sometimes aches and pains may tend to appear out of the blue, with symptoms that may come and go. When the symptoms start getting worse or do not seem to subside for days then this will be termed chronic pain in the wrist. Get a healthcare provider to carefully examine the pain and obtain appropriate imaging studies to isolate the cause of the pain.

Some of the most identified causes of wrist pain are:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome: This is a common hand-related concern which leads to pain, numbness, weakness and tingling sensation in the hand and wrist. When there are repeated hand movements or lifting of heavy weights, there is an interval pressure phenomenon which squeezes the median nerve. This is the nerve that travels through your wrist and enables the hand with the ability to feel things and move the hand.
  • Tendinitis: The wrist has a crisscrossed labyrinth of multiple tendons to enable wrist movement and mobility of fingers. If there is some sort of irritation in these tendons, they tend to swell, leading to experiencing pain with movement or enhanced risk of severe spontaneous rupture. The most popular form of tendinitis is De Quervain’s tenosynovitis usually seen on the thumb side of your wrist. Here, the patient will experience severe pain every time there is any movement combining the thumb and wrist.
  • Ganglion cysts: This is a benign cyst or a fluid-filled lump that forms over the wrist joints and tendons. It tends to press against the nerves in the wrist, causing numbness, a tingling sensation or a dull ache. The condition is not serious yet uncomfortable.
  • Gout: Gout is the sign of inflamed joints that are painful, sore and swollen. The affected area feels warmer on touch. The root cause is the build-up of excessive uric acid which builds up in the bloodstream. Then this acid build-up leads to painful crystals which are found in the joints and adjoining soft tissues.
  • Osteoarthritis: When the cartilage of the wrist bones wears down one suffers from osteoarthritis. As a result, bone rubs against bone causing pain or swelling and stiffness.
  • Psoriatic arthritis: Patients suffering from psoriasis tend to get psoriatic arthritis. Just like osteoarthritis, this also comes with wrist pain or tenderness and swelling with stiffness, reducing the overall range of motion of the wrist.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: This autoimmune disease starts in the small joints of the hands and wrists. Like other arthritis patients, these people also experience joint pain, swelling and stiffness.
  • Other causes: Lupus, infections around wrists, tumours, Avascular Necrosis of carpal bone, cervical nerve compression, etc.

How is wrist pain treated?

Depending on the cause of the pain the treatment approach will differ.

  • If the scenario is severe, your orthopaedic might suggest a protective splint or cast for a fracture. It can ease the pain due to sprain or arthritis.
  • If the fracture is unstable, surgery might be needed. Timely surgical intervention will heal the problem from its root cause.

At home, you may do the following to help manage the pain:

  • Apply cold compress on acute injuries.
  • Apply a warm compress for chronic pain.
  • Physiotherapist-guided hand exercises.
  • Over-the-counter or topical NSAIDs, a.k.a. (pain-relief ointments).

If the orthopaedic identifies that the pain is chronic, then they might recommend

  • Oral/ IV medications to relieve the pain.
  • Carpal tunnel surgery, in case there is pressure built up on the median nerve.
  • Surgery to release the compression of tendons.
  • Surgically release bone-to-bone friction for arthritis patients.
  • Motion-preserving procedures like wrist fusion, bone removal or wrist replacement.
  • Wrist debridement surgery to remove the inflamed scar tissues causing the pain.

These days orthopaedic surgeons prefer using arthroscopic (minimally invasive) techniques to ensure a speedy recovery and complete treatment.

How Can You Prevent Wrist Pain?

It is always said by medical practitioners that prevention is always better than cure. In the case of wrist pain, repetitive movements can tend to make it hurt more. For example, we all spend a lot of time typing. So you can avoid wrist pain from it by:

  • Lowering your keyboard to ensure your wrists don’t bend upward.
  • Take periodic breaks and rest your hands.
  • Use a wrist rest
  • Try to be ambidextrous when using the mouse.

In conclusion, the underlying cause of pain once identified can help locate the cause and enable your healthcare partner to apply the appropriate treatment for it. When in doubt regarding pain that refuses to go away on its own, always reach out to a hand and wrist expert who will help resolve your problem. At the CK Birla Hospital, our award-winning team of experts and orthopaedic surgeons will provide the best solution with the fastest chance of recovery.

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