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Getting a Handle on Hand Pain

Is it carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis or something else?

Hand pain

Your hands are made up of many different bones, muscles and ligaments. This intricate system allows for a large amount of movement and dexterity. “But all those elements working together also means your hands are susceptible to several painful problems – many of which can interfere with activities of daily living,” says Paul Sibley, DO, with LVPG Orthopedics and Sports Medicine-1250 Cedar Crest.



Arthritis is loss of joint cartilage, often with inflammation, pain and stiffness. It can occur in many areas of the hand and wrist.


Osteoarthritis is one of the most common forms of arthritis in the hands. It may be caused by normal use of the hand, or it may develop after an injury. Osteoarthritis often occurs in the base of the thumb, at the end joint closest to the fingertip or at the middle joint of a finger.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis include:

  • Stiffness
  • Swelling and pain
  • Bony nodules at middle or end joints of finger
  • Pain and possibly swelling at base of thumb
  • Loss of strength in fingers and grip of hand

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Hand pain

The median nerve provides sensory and motor functions to the thumb and three middle fingers. With carpal tunnel syndrome, the median nerve is squeezed or compressed as it passes through the carpal tunnel in the wrist. Symptoms may include:

  • Trouble gripping objects with hand
  • Pain or numbness in hand
  • “Pins and needles” feeling in fingers
  • Swollen feeling in fingers
  • Burning or tingling in fingers, especially thumb and index and middle fingers

“The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome may look like other conditions, such as tendonitis, bursitis or rheumatoid arthritis,” says Ashkon Razavi, MD with LVPG Orthopedics and Sports Medicine–1621 N. Cedar Crest.

Ganglion cysts

“Soft, fluid-filled cysts can develop on the front or back of the hand for no apparent reason,” Razavi says. These are called ganglion cysts. They are the most common noncancer, soft-tissue tumor of the hand and wrist.

Common symptoms of ganglion cysts include:

  • Wrist pain that gets worse with repeated use or irritation
  • A slow-growing, localized swelling, with mild aching and weakness in wrist
  • An apparent cyst that is smooth, firm, rounded or tender

Symptoms of ganglion cysts may look like other health conditions or problems.

Tendon problems

Tendons are tough cords of tissue that connect muscles to bones. Two major problems linked to tendons are:

  • Tendonitis (inflammation of a tendon)
  • Tenosynovitis (inflammation of the lining of tendon sheaths that enclose tendons)

Common tendon disorders of the arm, shoulder and hand include:

  • Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis): There is pain in the outside of elbow and forearm. Pain is along the thumb side when arm is next to body with the thumb turned away. Pain is caused by damage to tendons that bend wrist backward away from palm.
  • Golfer’s or baseball elbow (medial epicondylitis): Pain goes from elbow to wrist on inside of forearm. Pain is caused by damage to tendons that bend wrist toward palm.
  • Rotator cuff tendonitis: A shoulder disorder with inflammation of shoulder capsule and related tendons.
  • De Quervain’s tenosynovitis: The most common type of tenosynovitis disorder. There is tendon sheath swelling in tendons of thumb.
  • Trigger finger or trigger thumb: A tenosynovitis condition in which tendon sheath becomes inflamed and thickened. This prevents smooth extension or flexing of finger or thumb. Finger or thumb may lock or “trigger” suddenly.

Treatments are available for these common hand problems. “If you are experiencing hand pain, make an appointment with your health care provider so you can get on the road to recovery,” Sibley says.

You don’t have to live with hand pain.

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