Hand Pain and Problems
Anatomy of the hand
The hand is made up 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). Only the
thumb has 2 phalanges.
Metacarpal bones. The 5 bones that make up 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.
Many 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 common hand problems?
There are many common hand problems that can interfere with activities of daily living
(ADLs). They include:
Arthritis is loss of joint cartilage, often with inflammation, pain and stiffness.
It can occur in many areas of the hand and wrist. Arthritis of the hand can be very
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 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.
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:
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
With this condition, the median nerve is squeezed or 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.
Each person’s symptoms may be different. Symptoms may include:
Trouble gripping objects with the hand
Pain or numbness in the hand
"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 the hand. This is done to help prevent wrist movement and decrease the compression
of the nerves inside the tunnel.
Medicines to reduce swelling. Anti-inflammatory medicines can be taken by mouth (oral) or
Surgery. This is done to relieve compression on the nerves in the carpal tunnel.
Ergonomic changes. Making changes to your work environment, such as changing the position
of a computer keyboard.
Soft, fluid-filled cysts can develop on the front or back of the hand for no apparent
reason. These are called ganglion cysts. They are the most common noncancer, soft-tissue
tumor of the hand and wrist.
The most common symptoms for ganglion cysts include:
Wrist pain that gets worse 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 health conditions or problems.
Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
At first, when the cyst is small and painless, treatment is usually not needed. Only
when the cyst begins to grow and hand function is affected is treatment usually necessary.
Treatment may include:
Tendons are the tough cords of tissue that connect muscles to bones. Two major problems
linked to tendons are tendonitis and tenosynovitis. Tendonitis is inflammation of
a tendon. It can affect any tendon. But it's most often 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 often the site which becomes inflamed. But both
the sheath and the tendon can become inflamed at the same time. The cause of tenosynovitis
is often unknown. But usually strain, overuse, injury, or excessive exercise may be
a factor. Tendonitis may also be linked to disease such as diabetes or rheumatoid
Common tendon disorders include:
Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis). There is pain in the outside of the elbow and forearm. The pain is along the thumb
side when the arm is next to the body with the thumb turned away. The pain is caused
by damage to the tendons that bend the wrist backward away from the palm.
Golfer’s or baseball elbow (medial epicondylitis). Pain goes from the elbow to the wrist on the inside of the forearm. The pain is
caused by damage to the tendons that bend the wrist toward the palm.
Rotator cuff tendonitis. A shoulder disorder with inflammation of the shoulder capsule and related tendons.
De Quervain's tenosynovitis. The most common type of tenosynovitis disorder. There is tendon sheath swelling in
the tendons of the thumb.
Trigger finger or trigger thumb. A tenosynovitis condition in which the tendon sheath becomes inflamed and thickened.
This prevents the smooth extension or flexion of the finger or thumb. The finger or
thumb may lock or "trigger" suddenly.
Treatment for most tendon problems may include:
Reducing your activity level
Splinting or immobilization
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen