Hand Pain and Problems
Anatomy of the hand
The hand is composed of many different bones, muscles, and ligaments that allow for
a large amount of movement and dexterity. There are 3 major types of bones in the
hand itself, including:
Phalanges. The 14 bones that are found in the fingers of each hand and also in the toes of each
foot. Each finger has 3 phalanges (the distal, middle, and proximal); the thumb only
Metacarpal bones. The 5 bones that compose the middle part of the hand.
Carpal bones. The 8 bones that create the wrist. The carpal bones are connected to 2 bones of the
arm, the ulnar bone and the radius bone.
Numerous muscles, ligaments, and sheaths can be found within the hand. The muscles
are the structures that can contract, allowing movement of the bones in the hand.
The ligaments are fibrous tissues that help bind together the joints in the hand.
The sheaths are tubular structures that surround part of the fingers.
What are some common hand problems?
There are many common hand problems that can interfere with activities of daily living
(ADLs), including the following:
Arthritis is joint inflammation and can occur in multiple areas of the hand and wrist.
Arthritis of the hand can be very painful.
Osteoarthritis is one of the most common forms of arthritis in the hands and may be
caused by normal use of the hand or it may develop after an injury. Osteoarthritis
usually develops in one of 3 places: the base of the thumb, at the end joint closest
to the finger tip, or at the middle joint of a finger.
Signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis include:
Swelling and pain
Bony nodules at the middle or end joints of the finger
Pain and possibly swelling at the base of the thumb
Loss of strength in the fingers and the grip of the hand
Treatment for osteoarthritis includes:
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
Resting the affected hand
Wearing splints at night
Using heat to soothe the pain
Using ice to reduce swelling
Possible cortisone injections
Possible surgery when no other treatments work
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition in which the median nerve is compressed as it
passes through the carpal tunnel in the wrist, a narrow confined space. Since the
median nerve provides sensory and motor functions to the thumb and 3 middle fingers,
many symptoms may result.
The following are the most common symptoms for carpal tunnel syndrome. However, each
individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
Trouble gripping objects with the hand(s)
Pain or numbness in the hand(s)
"Pins and needles" feeling in the fingers
Swollen feeling in the fingers
Burning or tingling in the fingers, especially the thumb and the index and middle
The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome may look like other conditions such as tendonitis,
bursitis, or rheumatoid arthritis. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Treatment may include:
Splinting of the hand (to help prevent wrist movement and decrease the compression
of the nerves inside the tunnel)
Oral or injected (into the carpal tunnel space) anti-inflammatory medicines (to reduce
Surgery (to relieve compression on the nerves in the carpal tunnel)
Changing position of a computer keyboard, or other ergonomic changes
Soft, fluid-filled cysts can develop on the front or back of the hand for no apparent
reason. These are called ganglion cysts — the most common, benign (noncancerous), soft-tissue tumor of the hand and wrist.
The following are the most common symptoms for ganglion cysts include:
Wrist pain that is aggravated with repeated use or irritation
A slow growing, localized swelling, with mild aching and weakness in the wrist
An apparent cyst that is smooth, firm, rounded, or tender
The symptoms of ganglion cysts may look like other medical conditions or problems.
Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Initially, when the cyst is small and painless, treatment is usually not needed. Only
when the cyst begins to grow and interferes with the functionality of the hand is
treatment usually necessary. Treatment may include:
Two major problems associated with tendons include tendonitis and tenosynovitis. Tendonitis,
inflammation of a tendon (the tough cords of tissue that connect muscles to bones)
can affect any tendon, but is most commonly seen in the wrist and fingers. When the
tendons become irritated, swelling, pain, and discomfort will occur.
Tenosynovitis is the inflammation of the lining of the tendon sheaths which enclose
the tendons. The tendon sheath is usually the site which becomes inflamed, but both
the sheath and the tendon can become inflamed simultaneously. The cause of tenosynovitis
is often unknown, but usually strain, overuse, injury, or excessive exercise may be
implicated. Tendonitis may also be related to disease (such as, diabetes or rheumatoid
Common tendon disorders include the following:
Lateral epicondylitis (commonly known as tennis elbow). A condition characterized by pain in the back side of the elbow and forearm, along
the thumb side when the arm is alongside the body with the thumb turned away. The
pain is caused by damage to the tendons that bend the wrist backward away from the
Medial epicondylitis (commonly known as golfer's or baseball elbow). A condition characterized by pain from the elbow to the wrist on the palm side of
the forearm. The pain is caused by damage to the tendons that bend the wrist toward
Rotator cuff tendonitis. A shoulder disorder characterized by the inflammation of the shoulder capsule and
DeQuervain's tenosynovitis. The most common type of tenosynovitis disorder characterized by the tendon sheath
swelling in the tendons of the thumb.
Trigger finger/trigger thumb. A tenosynovitis condition in which the tendon sheath becomes inflamed and thickened,
thus preventing the smooth extension or flexion of the finger/thumb. The finger/thumb
may lock or "trigger" suddenly.
Treatment for most tendon problems may include: