What Causes Wrist Pain? Causes, Treatments, & More

By Latifa deGraft-Johnson, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
June 17, 2022

It is not uncommon for people to experience pain in their wrist at some point in their life.

The wrist pain could be due to fractures, sprains, or repetitive stress. 

Wrists can be one of the most overlooked parts of the body, yet they’re vital to the activities of daily living.

Whether we’re texting, cooking, or typing on our laptops, we use our hands for almost everything.

Wrists are the connection between our hands and arms that enable us to grasp, lift, and rotate.

This article will cover all you need to know about wrist pain and its causes, how to diagnose and treat it, and when to seek medical attention.

What is Wrist Pain? 

Wrist pain is any pain or discomfort in the wrist, including throbbing, tingling, numbness, or stiffness.

Causes 

Injury, repetitive movements, and illness are among the most common causes of wrist pain. 

Injury

If you have obvious trauma around your wrist area, you will be sure why your wrist is paining you.

But sometimes, injuries, like sprains and strains, can be more subtle. However, they can cause you intense pain in your wrist.

If you experience wrist pain, you should consider checking for bruises and swellings around your wrist, as these are common signs of an injury.  

Repetitive Motions

A persistent motion could be wearing on your wrists.

Activities like typing on a keyboard, playing sports, and using hand tools, are just a few examples of repetitive motions that could cause wearing in your wrist joints.

Tendinitis

Tendinitis can happen when an area of your wrist is subjected to repeated injury. It is the inflammation of one of the tendons around the wrist (e.g., the flexor carpi radialis that bends the wrist).

A sudden injury can cause tendinitis, but repetitive motions often cause it.

Severe swelling can be the outcome, causing pain and soreness. 

Arthritis

There are several types of arthritis, and all of them can cause pain and stiffness in your joints. Three common types are:

  • Osteoarthritis: The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis usually occurs with age or injury. When the cartilage that protects and cushions the ends of the bones wears down, it causes pain and damage to joints over time. The most common joints affected are the hands, knees, spine, and hips. 
  • Psoriatic: People with psoriasis can experience this type of arthritis, which is characterized by scaly skin rashes as well as stiffness and swelling in joints. 
  • Rheumatoid: This type of arthritis is usually seen in wrists and fingers but can affect any joint. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, meaning your body is attacking its own tissues. Over time, the inflammation from this disease can cause erosion of the bone itself and deformity in the joints.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

A nerve called the Median nerve runs down the arm to the hand.

Pressure on this nerve can cause tingling and numbness in the fingers and hands.

If left untreated, carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms can worsen to the point of weakness, muscle wasting, and continued pain labeled as carpal tunnel syndrome. 

Ganglion Cyst

This is a mass or lump, most often in the hand or wrist area. The cause is unknown.

Although a ganglion cyst can be painful, it’s usually harmless. However, it may interfere with movement.

Gout

Gout is caused by the buildup of uric acid in the joints.

Though most common in the bunion joint in the big toe, it can also progress to other joints, such as the wrist. Although there is no cure, it can be treated with medications and changes to your lifestyle.

You may have gout if you’re experiencing the following symptoms: 

  • Joint pain in hand or wrist
  • Limited mobility in hand or wrist
  • Pain in the knuckles 
  • Swelling and redness in the hand 

Lupus

Lupus (Systemic lupus erythematosus)  is an autoimmune disease with a range of symptoms.

It is a complex chronic disease that causes inflammation in connective tissues such as tendons and cartilages. It can cause pain and inflammation in any part of the body, including the wrists.

But is not a common cause of most wrist discomforts.

Kienbock’s disease

Kienbock’s disease is a rare condition where the small bones of the wrist are affected by the interruption of blood flow, possibly following an injury. The cause is unknown, and it progresses slowly.

Experiencing wrist pain? Chat with a medical provider using K Health.

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Risk Factors 

Wrists have eight small bones connected by ligaments and nerves. Due to the complex structure of the wrist, there are many ways your wrists can develop pain.

People who are susceptible to certain diseases (such as arthritis), play sports, or use repetitive motions involving the wrist can increase the chances of developing wrist pain.

Diagnosis

An injury is a common suspect when a person develops wrist pain, but long-term health issues or illness can also be the cause. Diagnosing the reason can be difficult. 

With a physical exam, a doctor can identify the source of your wrist pain. You may also receive imaging, arthroscopy, or nerve tests as part of the examination.

Treatment

After a physical examination or necessary testing, your doctor will prepare a treatment plan to help resolve the problem. 

Your treatment will depend on the severity, location, and other factors causing your wrist pain. This could include medication, therapy, surgery, or a combination of several treatment types.

Treatment for wrist pain will be specific to your needs.

Prevention

Some wrist problems can be prevented using good ergonomic practices, taking breaks when doing repetitive movements, and using protective gear when playing sports. 

If you suspect an illness or medical problem, be sure to follow your doctor’s advice. There may be steps you can take to reduce pain and prevent further harm to your wrists.

Experiencing wrist pain? Chat with a medical provider using K Health.

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When to see a Medical Provider

You may not need to see a doctor for your wrist pain. Minor injuries may be treated with home remedies like ice, rest, and over-the-counter pain medications.

However, pain and/or swelling that lasts more than a couple of days should be treated by a healthcare professional. Chronic illness is also a good reason to continue to see your medical provider for any type of wrist pain.

How K Health Can Help

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Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and, if needed, text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do I Know if My Wrist Pain is Serious?
If you have obvious trauma, severe wrist pain, redness, swelling, or loss of sensation in your fingers or hand, you may consider it to be a serious condition. Seek medical attention. If your pain is minor but continues to return with regular use, a doctor’s visit could be the next step to determine why you’re experiencing pain in your wrist.
How Do I Get Rid of Wrist Pain?
Before any type of treatment, you need to know what’s causing your wrist pain. Prevention is a good idea to avoid creating pain in your wrist. So, you should adopt good ergonomics when typing, wear protective gear while playing sports, and remember to take breaks when doing any repetitive movements. If your pain is caused by illness, see a doctor as your best course of action. Over-the-counter medications for pain, ice, or rest can be helpful for minor pain. But if that isn’t helpful, it is important to discuss it with a doctor.
What is the Most Common Cause of Wrist Pain?
Injuries like sprains, strains, and fractures are the most common causes of wrist pain. Repeated injuries, repetitive movements, arthritis, and carpal tunnel syndrome can also cause pain and are reasons to seek medical assistance. If you’re unsure why you’re having pain in your wrists, a qualified professional will help you diagnose and treat it.
What Does Tendonitis of the Wrist Feel Like?
If you have a popping sensation, stiffness when moving your wrist, or swelling where your fingers connect to the hand, you may have tendonitis. Are you experiencing pain in your wrist when trying to lift objects like groceries or small pets? Are you also having trouble making a turning motion, like rotating your wrist to open a door or jar lid? These could be indications of tendonitis.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Latifa deGraft-Johnson, MD

Dr. Latifa deGraft-Johnson is a board-certified family medicine physician with 20 years of experience. She received her bachelor's degree from St. Louis University, her medical degree from Ross University, and completed her family medicine residency at the University of Florida. Her passion is in preventative medicine and empowering her patients with knowledge.