Wrist Pain


What Is Wrist Pain?

Wrist pain may feel like an ache or a sharp pain in the wrist. The wrist joint includes eight small bones connected with ligaments and tendons (bands of tissue). Three large nerves pass through the wrist to the hands, allowing you to touch, feel, move and communicate with the brain.

Wrists are strong, but falls and everyday use can injure them. Wrist pain may require only rest or physical therapy to heal, but sometimes you might need surgery or other advanced care. Aurora Health Care’s orthopedic team offers treatments for any type of wrist pain.

The Aurora Difference

Expert Wrist Pain Diagnosis & Care

Our orthopedic team has specialized expertise in treating wrist pain, including:

  • Expert orthopedists: Many of our orthopedic surgeons are fellowship trained in hand surgery. These doctors have pursued additional training after medical school, focusing on the delicate tendons, joints and muscles of the wrist and hand. Coupled with their expertise are the complex treatments they’re able to offer, including minimally invasive surgery, joint fusion and reconstruction to stabilize the wrist.
  • Hand therapy: Some of our physical therapists and occupational therapists have earned hand therapy certification after thousands of hours of study and practice in treating the hand, wrist and arm. These hand therapists can help you relieve wrist pain so you can use your hands and wrists comfortably again. Learn more about hand therapy.
  • Noninvasive treatment options: Our occupational therapists and hand therapists offer wrist pain treatments, including bracing and physical therapy.
  • Wrist and hand care in convenient locations: The Aurora Hand Service Program provides specialized care for conditions affecting your hands and arms, including your wrists. This surgical and nonsurgical care is available to you in locations throughout eastern Wisconsin.

Risk Factors

Risk Factors for Wrist Pain

Anyone can have wrist pain, but it’s more likely to occur in people who:

  • Play sports or do activities that require frequent wrist extension – bicycling, tennis, baseball, softball (especially catchers) or bowling
  • Perform repetitive movements, like using a computer, working with tools, knitting or cutting hair
  • Have osteoporosis, a condition that makes bones more brittle and increases the likelihood of a wrist fracture
  • Have arthritis, which causes inflammation and tenderness in joints like the wrist
  • Are pregnant – pregnancy increases the likelihood of temporarily developing carpal tunnel syndrome because of fluid build-up in your wrists


Causes of Wrist Pain

Wrist pain is very common. Sometimes it comes and goes without an obvious cause. If pain continues, though, it could be caused by:

  • Fractures or other injuries: You’ll feel pain in your wrist if you have a fracture or sprain from an impact, like falling onto an outstretched hand. Other traumas – like accidents or sports injuries – can cause sprains or ligament tears that can cause wrist pain as well.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome: Nerves travel to the hands through a passageway in the wrists called the carpal tunnel. Repetitive movements, like typing or using tools, may compress this tunnel and create pain in the wrist. Read more about carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • De Quervain's tenosynovitis: De Quervain’s causes inflammation of the thumb tendons, which in turn can cause wrist pain. Doctors sometimes call this condition thumb tendonitis or “mommy thumb.” Learn more about de Quervain’s tenosynovitis (thumb tendonitis).
  • Arthritis: Joint inflammation, stiffness and pain may be caused by arthritis. The wrist is one of the areas arthritis affects most often. Find out more about arthritis.
  • Ganglion cysts: A cyst (a lump containing fluid) can grow between the wrist bones. Cysts are usually painless, but they may cause wrist pain if they press on a nerve.
  • Neuropathy: Neuropathy is a broad term that refers to nerve damage or disrupted nerve pathways that transmit messages between the body and brain. Neuropathy can cause wrist pain or tingling in the wrist and hands. Read more about neuropathy.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Finding the Source of Wrist Pain

Our doctors may be able to diagnose wrist pain based on an examination and simple in-office tests. In some cases, they may use additional diagnostic tools like:

  • Imaging: X-rays can reveal bone fractures, while magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans can show other structural issues inside your wrist. Both can help your doctor pinpoint the source of wrist pain.
  • Blood tests: Your doctor may order blood tests to get more information about swelling or ongoing pain. Blood tests can help with the diagnosis of conditions like rheumatoid arthritis (rheumatoid pannus) and gout.
  • Exploratory arthroscopy: Sometimes, minimally invasive surgery using small incisions (called portals) can help your doctor diagnose the cause of chronic wrist pain.

Learn more about orthopedic diagnosis.

Treatments for Wrist Pain

Often, wrist pain improves with remedies like rest, ice and changes in activities. But if these kinds of home remedies aren’t working, we may recommend:

  • Bracing or splints: Wrist splints or wrist braces help immobilize and support your wrist while it heals. Your doctor might recommend you use a splint for a week or two and then return for further examination.
  • Physical therapy: Physical and occupational therapy may be used as standalone treatments or as treatments after wrist surgery. With therapy, you can learn more comfortable ways to use your wrists or get help with your recovery. Learn more about orthopedic physical therapy.
  • Guided injections: Orthopedists use injections to administer inflammation-reducing medication directly into the joint. Some injections use ultrasound imaging (using sound waves) or fluoroscopy (injecting a dye agent to more clearly show the joint) for precise delivery. Learn more about injections for joint pain.
  • Minimally invasive surgery: Minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery lets a surgeon repair the wrist through small incisions using tiny surgical tools. When surgery is needed, our doctors use arthroscopic techniques whenever possible to repair carpal tunnel syndrome, remove ganglion cysts and repair ligament tears. Learn more about minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery.
  • Fusions and reconstructions: If you have advanced wrist pain from arthritis or trauma, our specialty-trained hand and wrist surgeons offer surgical fusion and reconstruction. These surgeries use metal plates and bone grafts from other parts of your body to stabilize the tiny bones of the wrist and relieve pain. Learn more about our treatments for elbow, wrist and hand pain.

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