What Causes Pain in Wrist and Thumb & How is it Treated?

Many people commonly have pain in hands, fingers and wrists. You may experience slight to severe wrist and thumb pain, wondering what causes pain in wrist and thumb. The reason may range from minor sprain to an underlying medical condition. Hands and fingers are put to use in most of activities and there are many causes of pain in wrist and thumb.

In most cases of minor pain and inflammation, the pain in wrist and thumb improves with rest and necessary medical care. Nevertheless, any pain should not be ignored and any discomfort should be attended to for proper medical advice.

What Causes Pain in Wrist and Thumb?

Pain in wrist and thumb often involves painful movements of the wrist, thumb and may also affect movements of other fingers. Holding or grasping of objects, fine motor skills may get affected due to wrist and thumb pain. Pain may sometimes be associated with numbness, burning sensation or a feeling of soreness in the area between the wrist and the thumb. Depending on the cause of the pain in wrist and thumb, there may be redness or swelling in a particular area or a noticeable bump may appear on the wrist, back of the palm, fingers or thumb.

What Causes Pain in Wrist and Thumb

Some of the common causes of pain in wrist and thumb include:

Pain in Wrist and Thumb Caused Due to Injuries – Injury to the wrist joint, thumb or the hand can cause pain in and around the wrist and thumb, making hand and wrist movements difficult. Injuries often include trauma to the wrist joint, fracture, ligament or muscle strains and other soft tissue injuries around the wrist and thumb. Overuse injuries occur due to repeated trauma to the joint or tissues from repetitive motion, occurring again and again. It often causes pain, swelling, inflammation of the wrist, thumb and causes painful movements of the wrist, thumb and fingers.

Pain in Wrist and Thumb Caused Due to Tendinitis – Tendons of the wrist and thumb can get inflamed due to injury, overuse or other problems and small tears may result causing pain. It may also affect the ability to hold objects and use wrist and thumb properly.

Pain in Wrist and Thumb Caused Due to De Quervain’s Disease – This conditions results from inflammation of a tendon and its covering, which runs in the hand through the wrist on the side of the thumb. Inflammation of this tendon causes pain at the base of the thumb extending to the wrist. This often occurs due to overuse of the wrist joint, thumb and certain conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, post pregnancy and those with excessive use of wrist may be at an increased risk.

Pain in Wrist and Thumb Caused Due to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – It occurs when the median nerve running through the wrist gets compressed. Pinching of a nerve often results in numbness, tingling, pain in wrist and thumb or fingers and sometimes even weakness in the hand.

Writer’s Cramps – This results due to spasms or cramps in the muscles of the forearm and the hands, which are used for writing or typing. People involved in repeated use of hands and fingers in such activities often face this problem, resulting in pain when writing, using fingers for typing, playing instruments, etc. It can occur due to repeated overuse of the strained muscles and can be managed by taking frequent breaks from the activity and resting the muscles.

Pain in Wrist and Thumb Caused Due to Ganglion Cyst – These are small fluid filled sacs, which can appear on the wrists, hands and can also occur on feet and legs. It appears to be growing out of the joint and is often the result of excess fluid due to inflammation in the joint. It can sometimes be painful, in which case, it can be treated by draining the cyst.

Other Causes of Pain in Wrist and Thumb – Dislocations, fractures and damage to the finger or thumb joints or wrists can cause pain in wrist and thumb. Wrist fractures medically termed as Colles’ fracture and Smith’s fracture depending on the position of the hand bone during the fracture, can cause severe pain in the wrist. Joint conditions like arthritis of the wrists or small joints of the hands, rheumatoid arthritis and other types of arthritis or certain infections affecting the joints in hands and wrists can cause pain in wrist and thumb. Autoimmune disorders like lupus or certain conditions affecting blood circulation too can affect the hands, fingers, thumb and the wrist.

Diagnosis of Pain in Wrist and Thumb

A detailed clinical history and clinical examination can help in identifying the problem and probable causes of pain in wrist and thumb. Enquiry and evaluation of pain around the wrists and thumb, swelling, difference in sensation like burning or tingling and presence of any weakness are important. Investigations like X-rays and scans may be ordered depending on the possible causes and to rule out certain conditions, injuries or fractures. Blood investigations may be done if infection or autoimmune disorders are suspected.

What is the Treatment for Pain in Wrist and Thumb?

Wrist and thumb are one of the most often used joints and can take time to heal if not given proper rest. In most causes of wrist and thumb pain, the treatment includes resting the wrist joint and the thumb, with a splint or a bandage, depending on the severity, for around 4 to 6 weeks or until it is healed.

Anti-inflammatory medications, pain relieving medicines, ointment and treatment to fight infections, arthritis or other conditions, depending on the cause may be given for wrist and thumb pain. Supplements of calcium, vitamin D and multi vitamins may be considered.

Physical therapy for pain in the wrist and thumb may include hot and cold compresses, wearing wrist and thumb braces for minor sprains, limiting and modifying activities to relieve pressure and reduce pain. Exercises to help strengthening of the supporting muscles may be advised by a trained physical therapist to improve functioning and flexibility of muscles and tissues.

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:January 28, 2019

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