Wrist pain is a common complaint. Many types of wrist pain are caused by sudden injuries that result in sprains or fractures. But wrist pain also can be caused by more long-term problems — such as repetitive stress, arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Because so many factors can lead to wrist pain, diagnosing the exact cause of long-standing wrist pain sometimes can be difficult. A precise diagnosis is crucial, however, because proper treatment depends on the cause and severity of your wrist pain.
Wrist pain may vary, depending on what's causing it. For example, osteoarthritis pain is often described as being similar to a dull toothache, while tendinitis usually causes a sharp, stabbing type of pain. The precise location of your wrist pain also can give your doctor clues as to what might be causing your symptoms.
When to see a doctor
Your wrist is a complex joint made up of eight small bones arranged in two rows between the bones in your forearm and the bones in your hand. Tough bands of ligament connect your wrist bones to each other and to your forearm bones and hand bones. Tendons attach muscles to bone. Damage to any of the parts of your wrist can cause pain and affect your ability to use your wrist and hand.
Other diseases and conditions
Your wrist is made up of eight small bones (carpal bones) plus two long bones in your forearm — the radius and the ulna. The most commonly injured carpal bone is the scaphoid bone, located near ...
Carpal tunnel anatomy
A passageway from the wrist to the hand, the carpal tunnel is made of tendons, ligaments and bones. The median nerve passes through the tunnel and provides sensation to your thumb, index finger, ...
Wrist pain can happen to anyone — whether you're very sedentary, very active or are somewhere in between. But certain factors can increase your risk.
Diseases and conditions
Preparing for your appointment
While you may initially consult your family physician, he or she may refer you to a doctor who specializes in joint disorders (rheumatologist), sports medicine or even an orthopedic surgeon.
What you can do
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
In some cases, your doctor may suggest imaging tests, arthroscopy or nerve tests to help pinpoint the cause of your wrist pain.
Treatments and drugs
Treatments for wrist problems vary greatly, depending on the type, location and severity of the injury, as well as on your age and overall health.
If you have sprained or strained your wrist, you may need to wear a splint to protect the injured tendon or ligament while it heals. Splints are particularly helpful with overuse injuries caused by repetitive motions.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Not every cause of wrist pain requires medical treatment. For a minor wrist injury, you may want to try putting ice on it and wrapping your wrist with an elastic bandage.
It's impossible to prevent the unforeseen events that often cause wrist injuries, but these basic tips may offer some protection:
Last Updated: 2009-10-27
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