If you’re experiencing pain in the wrist and hand, there could be several reasons as to why. Common injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome as well as conditions like rheumatoid arthritis can cause pain in the wrist and hand. Find out more about the potential source of your pain and how to treat it below.
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a common condition of the wrist and hand that can affect the use of the whole arm. It is caused by pressure on the nerve at the base of the palm (median nerve). Because of the demands that people place on their hands and wrists, CTS is a common condition affecting 1 out of 20 Americans and can cause pain in the wrist and hand. Surgery for this condition is commonly performed on the wrist and hand. Fortunately for most people who develop CTS, physical therapy treatment can often relieve pain and numbness and restore normal use of the hand, wrist, and arm without the need for surgery.
About the width of your thumb, the carpal tunnel is a narrow channel on the palm side of your wrist. The tunnel protects the median nerve and the tendons that bend your fingers. Pressure on the nerve can cause weakness and pain in your wrist and hand and numbness or tingling in some of your fingers. This pressure is caused by crowding or irritation of the median nerve in the carpal tunnel and can lead to CTS.
CTS is a common cause of pain in your wrist and hands. Driving a vehicle or using machinery that vibrates will aggravate the symptoms of CTS. Excessive keyboard and computer use can cause CTS, but people who work in jobs like meatpacking and assembly line work are especially prone to developing CTS. Sports like racquetball and activities like sewing and playing the violin can also cause you to develop CTS. If you experience pain in your wrist or hand that doesn’t go away, physical therapy can help ease the pain.
The following health conditions can also lead to CTS in some individuals:
CTS usually starts gradually, with symptoms such as burning, tingling, “pins and needles,” or numbness in the palm and fingers. Often the symptoms are more noticeable during the night, and individuals often report being wakened with symptoms. Many people feel the need to “shake out” their hands to try to relieve the symptoms.
As the condition progresses, the symptoms are noticed during the daytime and are often worse when holding items such as a heavy book or a hairbrush. A weakness of the hand and more constant numbness may occur if the pressure on the nerve continues. You may find that you drop objects unexpectedly or a weak grip. You may also experience pain in your wrist and hand.
Physical therapists are experts in the movement and function of the body and will work closely with other health care professionals to accurately diagnose and treat CTS. Symptoms of CTS are typical, and it is often possible to diagnose it without extensive testing. Some tests that may be used to help diagnose CTS include:
In some cases, your physical therapist may refer you to a physician or other health care professional for additional testing or treatment.
After the evaluation, your physical therapist will prescribe your treatment plan based on your specific case. If your evaluation confirms early-stage CTS, your therapist will recommend conservative care as a first step. Physical therapy treatment can be effective in reducing your symptoms so you can perform daily tasks without pain.
Depending upon the causes of your CTS, your therapy program may include:
Your physical therapist will also consider your home and leisure activities, with recommendations such as wearing gloves to keep the wrist/hands warm and limiting sports that aggravate the condition, such as racquet sports, until symptoms resolve.
If the evaluation reveals that your CTS is more severe, or if your symptoms persist, your physical therapist may refer you to a physician for a surgical consultation. If necessary, surgery will be performed to release the band of tissue that is causing pressure on the median nerve. Physical therapy treatment is important after surgery to help restore strength to the wrist and to learn to modify habits that may have led to symptoms in the first place. Your physical therapy treatment may include:
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects approximately 1% of the United States population. RA often results in pain and inflammation in joints on both sides of the body and can become disabling due to its effect on the immune system. A physical therapist can help manage the symptoms of RA, enhancing an individual’s quality of life.
RA is classified as an autoimmune disease—a condition where the body’s immune system attacks its tissues. Although the exact cause of RA is not known, doctors have proposed several theories to identify who is most likely to develop it. The cause may be related to a combination of genetics and environmental or hormonal factors. Women are more likely to develop the disease; women are diagnosed with RA 3 times more than men. Although RA may begin at any age, most research suggests it often begins in midlife.
RA symptoms can flare up and then quiet down (go into remission). Research shows that early diagnosis and treatment is important for easing symptoms and flare-ups.
RA symptoms can flare up and then go into remission. During a flare up, with RA may experience:
A rheumatologist generally diagnoses RA, and research shows that early diagnosis and treatment is important for easing symptoms and flare-ups. A variety of factors determine the diagnosis, such as inflammation of the tissues that line the joints, the number of joints involved, and blood-test results. A physical therapist may be the first practitioner to recognize the onset of RA; the physical therapist will refer an individual with suspected symptoms to an appropriate clinician for further tests.
Physical therapists play a vital role in improving and maintaining function that may be limited by RA. Your physical therapist will work with you to develop a treatment plan to help address your specific needs and goals. Because the signs and symptoms of RA can vary, the approach to care will also vary. Your physical therapist may provide the following recommendations and care:
Wrist tendinitis, not to be confused with tendinosis, is a condition that most commonly occurs in individuals who perform repetitive activities using the hand and arm. These include computer users, factory workers, and athletes who throw and catch balls and play racquet sports. A top cause for pain in the wrist and hand, some wrist tenditis facts include:
Physical therapists help people with wrist tendinitis reduce their pain, increase their wrist flexibility and strength, and return to their previous functional activities and sports.
Wrist tendinitis is a condition where 1 or more tendons in the wrist become inflamed and irritated. There are several tendons in the wrist that connect the muscles of the forearm and hand to the bones of the wrist and hand. These tendons are the small rope-like structures that you can see connecting to the fingers on the back of your hand. There are a number of conditions that can affect the tendons in this area.
Several tendons in the wrist can become irritated with wrist tendinitis, which can cause pain in the wrist and hand. Pain symptoms associated with the condition include:
Besides pain, other symptoms include:
Your physical therapist will conduct a thorough evaluation of your entire arm to include the shoulder, elbow, wrist, and hand. The therapist will ask you to describe the types of activities you normally perform using your arm at home, at work, and for recreation, and which of these activities causes pain or stiffness in the area. They’ll also want to know how long the pain has been occurring and how it is affecting your regular activities of daily living.
A physical exam will include testing your range of motion and strength in your entire upper arm. Your therapist will gently touch specific areas of your wrist and forearm to determine which wrist tendons are involved and to check for any swelling in the area.
Physical therapy is a highly effective treatment for wrist tendinitis. You will work with your physical therapist to devise a treatment plan that is specific to your condition and goals. Your treatment program may include:
Make your day-to-day life easier and more comfortable by treating the pain in your hand with IMPACT Physical Therapy. We have friendly and informed physical therapists at multiple locations to make seeking treatment convenient. Connect with us today to get started!