Wrist pain: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Many persons experience wrist pain at some point of their lives; whether it be transient, or longer-lasting and requiring medical attention. Regardless, the discomfort wrist pain can cause is significant, especially considering that your wrists are involved in an endless amount of daily activities, from writing, to texting on your phone or eating with a spoon.

As you can see, this can adversely affect your quality of life, especially if the pain turns out to be chronic.

Luckily, not all wrist pain is the same, as many times it resolves on its own after a couple days, requiring nothing more than occasional ice and rest.

Causes of Wrist Pain

Sometimes you can see when wrist pain is coming, but other times it pops up seemingly out of nowhere, with no clear trigger in sight. Luckily, medical sciences have come a very far way, and today have virtually identified all of the possible causes of the pain. By far, the most common causes of wrist pain include:


Not all arthritis is the same. In particular, the wrists may be subject to developing osteoarthritis, which occurs with pain and inflammation of the joints as a result of worn down synovial tissue following years of wear and tear, or rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune disorder that causes the body’s immune system to attack otherwise healthy organs or tissues, in this case the structures within the wrist.

Osteoarthritis tends to affect older persons, whereas rheumatoid arthritis can affect anyone of any age. Wrist pain caused by arthritis will be experienced for the rest of your life, with treatment modalities switching to management techniques.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

How many times in your life have you heard of carpal tunnel syndrome? Chances are it’s been multiple times, even though you may not understand what it is. Simply put, carpal tunnel syndrome results when nerves within the wrist are compressed as a result of a thickened ligament.

This larger ligament is not anatomically placed well, and causes compression of the nerve, leading to pain, weakness or even loss of sensation. This can be very dangerous, since loss of sensation means that your pressure reflex will be gone, and you may be unable to judge weight when holding an object.

Persons who are obese, have arthritis, or perform repetitive work using the hands are at an increased risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.


Tendonitis occurs when tendons found within the wrist become inflamed, or develop microscopic tears that leads to the accumulation of inflammatory mediators at the location. Tendonitis is not restricted to occurring in the wrist, but can occur at any joint location.


Sprains usually result owing to over-stretching of supporting ligaments of a joint, such as which occurs during a fall when you may instinctively reach out to cushion the impact. In the process, you may put your wrist, or other joints in an uncomfortable position that causes ligament damage.

Ganglion Cysts

These appear as soft lumps usually on the outer side of your inner wrist. These may not cause any symptoms, but if they compress nerves, pain usually ensues. Strangely, larger cysts are less likely to cause pain when compared to smaller ones.

Repetitive Motion Syndrome

The appearance of this may initially mirror tendonitis, except that it is not restricted to inflammation of the tendons alone. The entire wrist and all associated structures may become inflamed, tender and painful, increasing sensitivity of surrounding nerves. Knitting, or typing at the keyboard for hours each day are examples of activities that may cause repetitive motion syndrome, and wrist pain.


Gout is a condition characterized by an accumulation of uric acid in the body. Under normal circumstances, uric acid is excreted in urine, but in the event that uric acid production is too high, retention may occur.

One of the first locations of its accumulation being evident is in the joints, where hard lumps may form, known as uric acid crystals. This accumulation puts great pressure on the nerves surrounding the joint, and usually appear as clearly defined hard calciferous looking deposits.

While uric acid can accumulate in any joint, it frequently occurs in the wrists, ankles and knees.

Symptoms of Wrist Pain

The actual perception of wrist pain can vary significantly between individuals, with some persons experiencing accessory symptoms prior to the development of actual pain. Regardless, you may experience wrist pain that looks a certain way, which occurs with other manifestations such as:

Stiff, swollen fingers – this can be due to active inflammatory processes, or rarely blood circulation issues to the hand.

Weak grip – you may find yourself unable to clench your fist, or hold objects firmly without fear of dropping them. This can be owing to the pain experienced, or inflammation which prevents a fluid range of motion.

Numbness- numbness usually occurs when nerve compression is present, as circulation to the affected nerved may be compromised. Tingling, or temporary loss of sensation may also occur along with pain.

Pain- pain may be persistent but of lesser intensity, or occur as sudden stabbing sensations, especially when attempting to flex the wrists.

Treatment of Wrist Pain

Treatment of wrist pain can vary depending on the underlying cause. Here are a few common approaches to treating wrist pain in relation to its cause:

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

  • Application of a wrist brace that keeps the wrist stationery and helps avoid overuse of the ligaments.
  • Use of alternating hot and cold water compresses to reduce acute swelling
  • Occasionally, over the counter pain medication or anti-inflammatory products (though long term use is not advised owing to risk of adverse effects)
  • Surgery as a last resort if nothing else helps. Surgery can either help to repair the compressed nerve, or the enlarged ligament itself.


  • Be sure to use the medication that the physician prescribed to help reduce uric acid levels
  • Anti-inflammatory corticosteroids and painkillers are also commonly used to help treat the pain
  • Eliminate alcohol consumption and reduce the amount of fat consumed to minimize the production of excessive uric acid


  • Use of prescription corticosteroid medication (either as a depot injection or daily oral pills) is advised to reduce inflammation around the wrist
  • Over the counter analgesic medication for short term relief of pain

Other Causes

  • When wrist pain has occurred as a result of repetitive motion injuries, it is important to schedule rest. Until the pain and tenderness has subsided significantly, you should not actively make use of the wrist again.
  • Applying ice to the wrist also helps to manage pain and can inhibit inflammatory processes.


Millions of people suffer from wrist pain, when complete resolution is possible in many instances. Be sure to take necessary steps to prevent it as much as possible; schedule rest, prevent overuse injuries and manage co-morbidities that could significantly increase your risk.


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