Group Health
RETURN

Everyone has had a minor problem with a finger, hand, or wrist. Most of the time our body movements do not cause problems, but it's not surprising that symptoms occur from everyday wear and tear or from overuse. Finger, hand, or wrist problems can also be caused by injuries or the natural process of aging.

Your fingers, hands, or wrists may burn, sting, or hurt, or feel tired, sore, stiff, numb, tingly , hot, or cold. Maybe you can't move them as well as usual, or they are swollen. Perhaps your hands have turned a different color, such as red, pale, or blue. A lump or bump might have appeared on your wrist, palm, or fingers. Home treatment is often all that is needed to relieve your symptoms.

Finger, hand, or wrist problems may be caused by an injury. If you think an injury caused your problem, see the topic Finger, Hand, and Wrist Injuries. But there are many other causes of finger, hand, or wrist problems.

Overuse problems

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by pressure on a nerve (median nerve ) in the wrist. The symptoms include tingling, numbness, weakness, or pain of the fingers and hand.
  • Tendon pain is actually a symptom of tendinosis, a series of very small tears (microtears) in the tissue in or around the tendon. In addition to pain and tenderness, common symptoms of tendon injury include decreased strength and movement in the affected area.
  • De Quervain's disease can occur in the hand and wrist when tendons and the tendon covering (sheath) on the thumb side of the wrist swell and become inflamed. See a picture of de Quervain's disease .
  • Repetitive motion syndrome is a term used to describe symptoms such as pain, swelling, or tenderness that occur from repeating the same motion over and over.
  • Writer's cramps develop with repeated hand or finger motion, such as writing or typing.
  • Trigger finger or trigger thumb occurs when the flexor tendon and its sheath in a finger or thumb thicken or swell.

Bone, muscle, or joint problems

  • Dupuytren's disease is an abnormal thickening of tissue beneath the skin in the palm of the hand or hands and occasionally the soles of the feet. The thickened skin and tendons (palmar fascia) may eventually limit movement or cause the fingers to bend so that they can't be straightened. See a picture of Dupuytren's contracture .
  • Ganglion cysts are small sacs (cysts) filled with clear, jellylike fluid that often appear as bumps on the hands and wrists but can also develop on feet, ankles, knees, or shoulders. See a picture of a ganglion .

Problems from medical conditions

  • Tingling or pain in the fingers or hand (especially the left hand) may be signs of a heart attack.
  • Diabetes may change how the hands normally feel or sense touch. Decreased feeling in the hands is common because of decreased blood flow to the hands or damage to nerves of the hand .
  • Pregnancy may cause redness, itching, swelling, numbness, or tingling that often goes away after delivery.
  • Osteoarthritis is the progressive breakdown of the tissue that protects and cushions joints (cartilage). It may cause stiffness and pain with movement.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis may cause stiffness and pain with movement. Over time, deformity of the fingers may occur. See a picture of rheumatoid arthritis .
  • Lupus is a long-lasting autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks normal body tissues as though they were foreign substances. It may cause joint pain.
  • Gout is an inflammatory joint disease that causes acute pain and swelling. It is a form of arthritis that develops when uric acid crystals form in and around the joints, commonly affecting the big toe joint.
  • Raynaud's phenomenon is a condition in which some areas of the body, usually the fingers or toes, have an extreme response to cold temperature or emotional stress. During an attack of Raynaud's, the blood vessels in the affected areas tighten, severely limiting the flow of blood to the skin, causing numbness, tingling, swelling, pain, and pale color.
  • Infection can cause pain, redness, and swelling that occur with red streaking, heat, fever, or the drainage of pus. An infection often causes tenderness to the touch or pain with movement at the site of the infection.

Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.

Home treatment may be all that is needed for a finger, hand, or wrist problem.

  • Remove all rings , bracelets, watches, or any other jewelry from your finger, wrist, or arm as soon as you notice swelling. It will be harder to remove the jewelry after swelling increases.
  • Use rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) for pain and swelling.
  • Treat hands sensitive to cold by avoiding and protecting your hands from the cold.
  • Avoid sleeping on your hands, which may decrease blood flow to your fingers.
  • Treat blisters on fingers or hands.
  • Stop, change, or take a break from your activities.
Medicine you can buy without a prescription
Try a nonprescription medicine to help treat your pain:
  • Acetaminophen, such as Tylenol
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs):
    • Ibuprofen, such as Advil or Motrin
    • Naproxen, such as Aleve or Naprosyn
  • Aspirin (also a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug), such as Bayer or Bufferin

Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.

Safety tips
Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
  • Carefully read and follow all directions on the medicine bottle and box.
  • Do not take more than the recommended dose.
  • Do not take a medicine if you have had an allergic reaction to it in the past.
  • If you have been told to avoid a medicine, call your doctor before you take it.
  • If you are or could be pregnant, do not take any medicine other than acetaminophen unless your doctor has told you to.
  • Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than age 20 unless your doctor tells you to.

Symptoms to watch for during home treatment

Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:

  • Pain or swelling develops.
  • Signs of infection develop.
  • Numbness; tingling; or cool, pale skin develops.
  • Symptoms continue despite home treatment.
  • Symptoms become more severe or frequent.

The following tips may prevent finger, hand, and wrist problems.

General tips

  • Do exercises that strengthen your hand and arm muscles.
  • Stop, change, or take a break from activities that cause your symptoms.
  • Reduce the speed and force of repetitive movements in activities such as hammering, typing, knitting, quilting, sweeping, raking, playing racquet sports, or rowing.
  • Change positions when holding objects, such as a book or playing cards, for any length of time.
  • Use your whole hand to grasp an object. Gripping with only your thumb and index finger can stress your wrist.
  • When you work with tools that vibrate, consider using special gloves that support the wrist and have vibration-absorbing padding.
  • Wear protective gear, such as wrist guards, in sports activities.

Protect your hands from cold

  • Wear gloves anytime it is cool outside.
  • Use an insulated cover when you drink from a cold glass.
  • Avoid caffeine (coffee, cola, tea, chocolate) and tobacco products. Nicotine and caffeine cause blood vessels to narrow, which decreases blood flow to the hands.
  • Eat a hot meal before going out. Eating raises your body temperature and helps keep you warm.

Work posture and body mechanics

  • Organize your work so that you can change your position occasionally while maintaining a comfortable posture.
  • Position your work so you do not have to turn excessively to either side.
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed when your arms are hanging by your sides.
  • When using a keyboard, keep your forearms parallel to the floor or slightly lowered and keep your fingers lower than your wrists. Allow your arms and hands to move freely. Take frequent breaks to stretch your fingers, hands, wrist, shoulders, and neck. If you use a wrist pad during breaks from typing, it's best to rest your palm or the heel of your hand on the support, rather than your wrist.

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:

  • What are your main symptoms? How long have you had your symptoms?
  • Have you had this problem in the past? If so, do you know what caused the problem at that time? How was it treated? What do you think is causing your symptoms now?
  • What activities make your symptoms better or worse? Have you started any new activities, sports, or training techniques?
  • Do you think that activities related to your job or hobbies caused your symptoms?
  • What home treatment have you tried? Did it help?
  • What nonprescription medicines have you tried? Did they help?
  • Have you started any new medicines, or have you had a change in the dosage of a medicine?
  • Do you have any health risks?
  • Allergic Reaction
  • Finger, Hand, and Wrist Injuries
  • Pregnancy-Related Problems
  • Rash, Age 11 and Younger
  • Rash, Age 12 and Older

By: Healthwise Staff Current as of: October 11, 2012
Medical Review: William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
David Messenger, MD

© 1995-2014 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.
Click here to learn about Healthwise