We use our hands all the time, at home, at work, and to do almost everything. There are many reasons that you can experience hand pain, but the most common are a result of strain, repetitive activities, arthritis, and fractures like you may have when there’s an accident.
Common causes of hand pain
There are many reasons you may experience pain in your hand. Hand pain depends on the severity and duration of your symptoms. Using your hand effectively depends on anatomical integrity, mobility, muscle strength, sensation, coordination, and absence of pain.1
Hand pain can be a symptom of many conditions. Seeing a doctor will help you with a diagnosis based on your medical history, physical examination, and clinical testing. However, the following are some common causes of hand pain.
Traumatic injuries can cause hand pain. These injuries may come from accidents, work, and sports-related activities.2,3,4
Hand pain occurs in sports that involve the upper limb, like tennis, swimming, and any sports that involve frequent throwing. Stress fractures of certain bones often cause sports-related hand pain. These bones are the humerus, clavicle, scapula (shoulder blade), olecranon (elbow joint), ulna, and radius, depending on the type of sport. With sports-related hand pain, you may experience a gradual onset of pain from the bone. Your doctor may also find bony tenderness on physical examination.3
Traumatic injuries are a common cause of hand fractures. Falling is a common cause of hand fractures in adults and children, while violence and aggression are the most common causes of fractures among people assigned male at birth (PAMAB).4
Repetitive strain injuries (RSI)
Repetitive strain injuries are disorders that develop from repetitive movements, awkward postures, and sustained force. RSIs are common in working-class adults. Many of these adults report strains of the hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, or neck, and is a common reason for visiting the doctor.5
Common examples of repetitive strain injuries that cause hand pain are non-specific work-related repetitive strains, carpel tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, and de Quervain tenosynovitis. Non-specific work-related repetitive strains are work-related strains with no known diagnosis.5
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a common medical condition that causes pain, numbness, and tingling in the hand and arm. CTS occurs when the median nerve is squeezed or compressed as it travels through the wrist. Strain and repetitive activity often cause CTS.
The risk factors for CTS include obesity, pregnancy, genetic heredity, repetitive wrist activity, and rheumatoid inflammation. The pain in your hands from CTS may cause a reduction in grip strength and hand dexterity. CTS is more common in people assigned female at birth (PAFAB) than PAMAB.6
Cubital tunnel syndrome
Cubital tunnel syndrome happens when the ulnar nerve, which passes through the cubital tunnel (a tunnel of muscle, ligament, and bone) on the inside of the elbow, is injured and becomes inflamed, swollen, and irritated. Cubital tunnel syndrome causes a lot of pain and may lead to loss of hand function and disability.7
Tendinitis is the inflammation of the thick fibrous cords (connective tissues) that attach your muscle to the bone. These fibrous cords are called tendons. Tendinitis is a painful inflammatory condition caused by repetitive activities and can happen on your wrist, affecting wrist and hand movement.
De Quervain tenosynovitis
De Quervain tenosynovitis is a painful condition that affects the tendons on the thumb, which causes inflammation and swelling. This condition makes you feel pain when you turn your wrist, grasp anything, or form a fist. De Quervain tenosynovitis usually develops from repetitive hand or wrist movement. It is also common for mothers to lift their babies.10
Arthritis is a disorder that causes pain and inflammation in your joints, making it difficult to move your joints. Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout are the three major types of arthritis that cause hand pain.
Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage that protects the bone wears away over time. This condition can affect any of your joints, but it most commonly affects joints in your hands, spine, knees, and hips. Osteoarthritis may cause pain, swelling, and tenderness in the affected joints. Osteoarthritis is also known as degenerative joint disease.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease that happens when your body’s immune system attacks the cells in your joints. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect different parts of your body, including the hands, causing pain, swelling, and stiffness of the joints.
Gout is a type of arthritis that happens when there’s a buildup of uric acid in your body. It can affect the joints in your body, including the hands and feet. If you have gout, you will experience pain and swelling of the joints in your hand. Gout symptoms occur in episodes that come and go. These are known as flares or gout attacks.
Hand infections may involve the fingers and the palm. Most hand infections result from injuries at home or in the workplace. Staphylococcus aureus is the most common isolate associated with hand infections. Other common pathogens are staphylococcus species, streptococcus species and viruses. The most common types of hand infections are bite wounds, paronychia, felons, septic arthritis, osteomyelitis, cellulitis, necrotizing fasciitis, and herpetic whitlow.8
Raynaud’s disease, also known as Raynaud’s syndrome, is a condition that affects small blood vessels in your fingers, toes, nose, lips or ear lobes. There are two types of Raynaud’s disease: primary and secondary. During a Raynaud’s attack, the arterioles and capillaries in your fingers tighten more than they should. This tightening causes the skin of your fingers to become white and then blue. Your skin may also feel cold or numb. As your blood vessels relax and open up again, your skin may look red or feel tingly.
Lupus, also known as systemic lupus erythematosus, is an autoimmune disease that occurs when your body’s immune system attacks your body’s tissue cells, causing inflammation throughout the body. Lupus can affect the joints in your hands, which causes pain in the hand.
Diagnosis of hand pain
Diagnosis of your hand pain would depend on your clinical history, physical evaluation, and clinical findings.9
During the physical examination, the healthcare professional may test for range of motion on your hand, muscle contraction pain and muscle strength, palpation of tendons, and specific tests based on your history.9
The healthcare professional will diagnose your hand pain based on your specific signs and symptoms and the results from the clinical examinations.
Treating your hand pain would depend on the diagnosis of the hand pain. Treatment options may include medications (such as painkillers and specific drugs based on diagnosis), physiotherapy, exercise therapy, surgery, electrical stimulation, extracorporeal shock wave therapy, laser treatment, and manual therapy, such as osteopathy or chiropractic.5
You can also manage your hand pain until you see your doctor by doing the following:5
- Placing ice on the affected area of your hand
- Using over-the-counter painkillers like paracetamol
- Massaging your hand may be helpful in cases where your hand pain is a result of a repetitive activity
- Resting your hand by reducing hand activity, especially if the cause of your hand pain is a repetitive strain
- Using a splint to reduce hand movement
Frequently asked questions
When should I be concerned about hand pain?
See a doctor when there is increased swelling and pain after using an ice pack. Also, see a doctor if you feel so much discomfort or pain that interferes with the daily use of your hand.
Does hand pain go away on its own?
Sometimes, hand pain may resolve on its own, especially if the pain is a result of repetitive hand strain and minor injuries. Home treatments like rest, massage, and ice or heat can help resolve the pain quickly. Minor injuries in the hand can also heal on their own. If your hand pain doesn’t go away after some time or worsens, please see a doctor.
How do I get rid of pain in my hands?
The use of ice and heat may help relieve your hand pain. You can also take over-the-counter painkillers. Resting your hands for some time and taking a break from activities that involve your hands can help resolve hand pain. However, if the pain continues, please see a doctor.
Hand pain may be a symptom of many conditions. The most common causes of hand pain are traumatic injuries, repetitive strain injuries, arthritis, infections, Raynaud’s disease, and Lupus. Diagnosis of hand pain would depend on your clinical history, physical evaluation, and clinical findings. Treatment will depend on the diagnosis of the hand pain. Treatment options include, but are not limited to, medications, physiotherapy, exercise therapy, surgery, laser treatment, and home remedies such as massage, rest, and using ice and heat on the affected area. If you are at all concerned about your hand pain, please consult a healthcare professional for advice.
- Dahaghin S, Bierma-Zeinstra SMA, Reijman M, Pols H a. P, Hazes JMW, Koes BW. Prevalence and determinants of one-month hand pain and hand related disability in the elderly (Rotterdam study). Ann Rheum Dis. 2005 Jan;64(1):99–104. https://ard.bmj.com/content/annrheumdis/64/1/99.full.pdf
- Harrington JM, Carter JT, Birrell L, Gompertz D. Surveillance case definitions for work-related upper limb pain syndromes. Occup Environ Med. 1998 Apr;55(4):264–71. https://oem.bmj.com/content/oemed/55/4/264.full.pdf
- Brukner P. Stress fractures of the upper limb. Sports Med. 1998 Dec;26(6):415–24. https://www.peterbrukner.com/s/50-Stress-Fractures-Of-The-Upper-Limb.pdf
- Weum S, Millerjord S, De Weerd L. The distribution of hand fractures at the University Hospital of north Norway. Journal of Plastic Surgery and Hand Surgery [Internet]. 2016 May 3 [cited 2023 Sep 28];50(3):146–50. Available from: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.3109/2000656X.2015.1137923
- van Tulder M, Malmivaara A, Koes B. Repetitive strain injury. Lancet. 2007 May 26;369(9575):1815–22.
- Genova A, Dix O, Saefan A, Thakur M, Hassan A. Carpal tunnel syndrome: a review of the literature. Cureus [Internet]. [cited 2023 Sep 28];12(3):e7333. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7164699/
- Cutts S. Cubital tunnel syndrome. Postgrad Med J [Internet]. 2007 Jan [cited 2023 Sep 28];83(975):28–31. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2599973/
- Flevas DA, Syngouna S, Fandridis E, Tsiodras S, Mavrogenis AF. Infections of the hand: an overview. EFORT Open Rev [Internet]. 2019 May 10 [cited 2023 Sep 28];4(5):183–93. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6540949/
- Jepsen JR. Studies of upper limb pain in occupational medicine, in general practice, and among computer operators. Dan Med J. 2018 Apr;65(4):B5466.
- Efrat Daglan, Morgan S, Matan Yechezkel, Tal Frenkel Rutenberg, Shemesh S, Iordache SD, et al. Risk Factors Associated With de Quervain Tenosynovitis in Postpartum Women. 2023 Jan 24;155894472211505-155894472211505. https://doi.org/10.1177/15589447221150524