The human hand is a marvelously complex instrument, consisting of 29 bones, an equal number of joints, 34 muscles, more than 100 ligaments, and some of the most densely packed nerve clusters in the body. This complexity gives the hand its great range of capabilities, involving both power and precision, but also leaves it susceptible to a broad array of medical issues, many of them marked by significant levels of pain. Included among general sources of hand pain are inflammation, nerve damage, sprains, fractures, motion injuries, and various chronic health conditions.
The good news is that most hand problems respond to medical treatment, including readily accessible home remedies. For conditions requiring more intensive care, the orthopedic providers at Baptist Health can lend a helping hand.
What Causes Hand Pain?
Hand pain is a symptom of numerous medical conditions. A partial list of these conditions includes:
- Arthritis: Arthritis is the medical term for a large group of degenerative joint diseases, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritic joints are stiff, painful, and swollen. The elderly are most at risk for developing this condition. Arthritis is the number-one cause of hand pain, with arthritic conditions often getting their start in the body’s appendages.
- Gout: Gout is a severe form of arthritis. It is marked by the sudden onset of symptoms, including pain, redness, and a burning sensation in the joints. Most common in the feet and knees, gout also attacks the wrists and hands.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome: The carpal tunnel is a narrow channel of ligaments and bone where the wrist connects to the hand. Passing through it is the median nerve, which is sometimes compressed by the thickening or irritated tissues around it. This compression of the nerve is called carpal tunnel syndrome. It can result in pain, itching, and numbness in the thumb, palm, index and middle fingers.
- Ganglion cysts: A ganglion cyst is a fluid-filled sac that typically forms on the back or front of the wrist. Less frequently they’re found on the finger joints. They tend to develop over time without an obvious cause. Though generally harmless, ganglion cysts can be painful when they press against the nerves.
- De Quervain’s tenosynovitis: De Quervain’s tenosynovitis is an inflammation of the tendons at the base of the thumb. It results in pain on the outside of the wrist, as well as difficulty in moving the thumb. Onset is gradual and from unknown causes. It is more common in women than men.
- Trigger finger: Trigger finger is the common name for stenosing tenosynovitis. It refers to a medical condition in which a finger is caught in a bent position. Other symptoms include pain in the knuckles and palms and a popping sound when the finger is straightened. Most commonly affected are the thumb and ring finger. The cause of trigger finger is unclear; though inflammation of the tendon is suspected, it has yet to be verified by researchers.
- Raynaud’s phenomenon: Sometimes described as a “cold allergy,” Reynaud’s phenomenon is the tendency of the fingers and toes to grow cold, lose feeling, and change color when exposed to low temperatures. Though all of us are sensitive to cold in our extremities, people with Raynaud’s experience this sensitivity more acutely, to the point that it’s a recognized medical condition. The most severe cases of Raynaud’s can result in tissue damage and ulceration.
- Peripheral neuropathy: Peripheral neuropathy is a medical condition affecting the nerves that extend beyond the brain and spinal cord. It is often associated with feelings of numbness and weakness in the hands and feet. Other possible symptoms are prickling or tingling sensations and a lack of coordination. Peripheral neuropathy can stem from multiple causes, including systemic diseases, certain medications, traumatic injury, and vitamin deficiencies.
- Lupus: Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks healthy cells and tissues, as though they were diseased. The damage they sustain creates some of the very conditions that the immune system is supposed to guard against. Lupus attacks are often signaled by widespread inflammation. Hand pain and stiffness can be one of the earliest signs of lupus onset.
- Traumatic injury: Strains, sprains, and fractures are another leading cause of hand pain. The hand’s complex structure makes it particularly vulnerable to physical injury. Many such injuries are work- or sports-related. Accidents and falls are also frequently implicated. Contributing factors include bone diseases such as osteoporosis.
When Should I See a Physician about Hand Pain?
The variety of illnesses and conditions causing hand pain can make it difficult to know when to see your physician. Nevertheless, certain characteristics make seeking care more urgent:
- Hand pain accompanied by signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, or fever
- Prolonged weakness, numbness, or loss of feeling
- Immobility of the fingers, knuckles, or wrist, in normal or abnormal positions
- Physical deformity of the hand, wrist, or fingers
- Pain that doesn’t improve with time or simple home treatments
How Is Hand Pain Diagnosed?
Your physician’s diagnosis of a hand condition can be a complicated, multi-step process. He or she will likely:
- Document your health and medical history
- Ask you questions and make a record of your symptoms
- Examine your wrist, hand, and fingers, according to the symptoms reported
- Analyze evidence of inflammation, discoloration, cuts, misalignments, and/or deformities, as appropriate
- Utilize imaging technology, such as X-rays, ultrasound, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs), to identify possible under-the-skin structural issues
How Is Hand Pain Treated?
There is a broad spectrum of care available for hand pain, ranging from home remedies to inpatient hospital treatments:
- Ice and heat application
- Over-the-counter pain medications
- Steroid injections
- Splints, braces, and casts
- Closed reductions
- Surgical procedures
- Physical and other forms of rehabilitative therapy
- Stretching and strength-building exercises
What Is the Outlook for Patients with Hand Pain?
Though it is difficult to generalize based on the diverse causes of hand pain, the combination of readily available home remedies and proven medical treatments often makes the prognosis for hand-pain sufferers favorable.
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