Definition & Overview

The wrist is a complex joint comprised of eight bones, muscles, and tendons. Problems with any one of these can cause a certain degree of pain. Wrist pain is a common condition. Almost everybody will experience the condition at least once in his or her lifetime.

Injuries to the wrists and diseases are the most common causes of wrist pain. Sprains and fractures can easily occur while playing sports, during daily activities, or even performing ordinary household chores. Many types of diseases affect the joints and the wrists are popular targets.

Majority of wrist pain cases do not require medical attention and can be treated using home remedies. However, there are cases that require immediate medical attention, such as fractures, wounds, infections, and other types of injuries. Diseases that can affect the wrists, such as tendinitis and arthritis, require medium to long-term treatment. Some people may even have the condition for the rest of their lives.

Cause of Condition

The wrists are some of the most used joints in the whole body, which is why they are prone to injuries. The two most common types of injuries are sprains and strains caused by sudden impact as it is a normal instinct for the hands to support the body during a fall. Minor sprains usually don’t require medical attention and can be treated by using a cold press and pain relief medications.

In some cases, an injury to the wrist may seem like a sprain, but it may be something much worse. If the pain is accompanied by swelling, there is a good possibility that a fracture has occurred. Fractures require emergency medical attention. Most doctors will order an X-ray to determine if there is a fracture. However, some types of fractures, like a scaphoid fracture, will not be seen in an X-ray.

Injuries can also be caused by repetitive motions. For instance, tennis and basketball players perform repetitive motions using the wrists. If these motions continue for an extended time, there is a risk of causing a stress-related injury to the wrists.

Another cause of wrist pain is arthritis, specifically osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis in the wrists is normally brought upon by aging. This type is not common and most occurs among people who have incurred a previous wrist injury.

On the other hand, Rheumatoid arthritis that affects the wrist is a common condition. Rheumatoid arthritis happens when the body’s immune system attacks normal tissues. The wrists are usually affected by this type of disease.

Other diseases that affect the wrists that result in a significant amount of pain are:

Key Symptoms

The symptoms of wrist pain vary based on the cause. If the cause is an injury, the pain will normally be accompanied by swelling in the region. If an infection is present, the patient will normally have a fever as the body’s immune system fights the infection.

If wrist pain is caused by osteoarthritis, the patient may display the following symptoms:

  • Muscle weakness especially around the joints
  • Mild swelling
  • Deformity of the joints when the condition worsens
  • Reduced motion range or loss of motion
  • Stiffness in the joint
  • Pain can cause sleep problems

If rheumatoid arthritis is the cause of wrist pain, the following symptoms are usually present:

  • A feeling of fatigue
  • Swelling in the joint
  • Some redness may appear around the joint
  • Stiffness of the joint
  • A feeling of warmth in the joint
  • The joint appears to be tender

The following symptoms are usually present if the patient has carpal tunnel syndrome:

  • Tingling of the wrists and forearms accompanied by numbness
  • Pain increases while using the hands

Ganglion cysts normally display the following symptoms:

  • Pain is caused by the cyst pressing on the nerves
  • If the cyst is large enough, it can be felt by pressing on the wrists

Kienbock’s disease will present the following symptoms:

  • Swelling in the wrists
  • Moderate to severe pain
  • Stiffness of the wrists
  • Weaker grip
  • Tenderness in the wrist
  • Difficulty in moving the hand, especially while turning it upward

De Quervain’s disease presents the following symptoms:

  • Pain is present along the thumbs and can extend to forearm
  • Difficulty moving the thumb
  • Reduce grip strength due to pain in the thumbs

Dupuytren’s disease is accompanied by the following symptoms:

  • Dimples on the palms
  • Skin on the palms thicken
  • Tenderness in the palms

Who to see and types of treatment available

If you’re experiencing pain in the wrists that is unbearable, it’s best to consult your doctor. If the pain is caused by an injury, make sure that you get emergency medical attention. If the pain is caused by an injury and can’t be relieved using home remedies even after a few days, the injury may have been worse than it appeared and damage to the bones, muscles, or tendons could have happened. Your doctor will have you undergo tests to determine the extent of the damage.

If wrist pain is sudden and is not caused by any injuries, there is a chance that any one of the above-mentioned diseases may be present. The first person to see is your doctor. If your doctor confirms the presence of a disease, you will likely be referred to a specialist to receive the proper treatment.

Before providing any treatment, the doctor will first need to confirm the diagnosis by performing an X-ray, CT scan, MRI, or ultrasound. If these imaging tests are unable to determine the cause of the problem, your doctor may recommend that you undergo an arthroscopy. This procedure involves inserting a small instrument called an arthroscope in your wrists through a small incision. The instrument will produce a light so that the images obtained by the camera at the tip of the instrument are clearer.

Once the cause of the pain is determined, the doctor will be able to prescribe the right medications or may have you undergo physical therapy if the motion of your wrists has been greatly affected.


  • Wrist Pain | University of Maryland Medical Center
  • Arthritis of the Wrist | American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
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