You may know the feeling – pain in the palm of your hand, tingling, numbness and an ache that extends up your forearm. Sometimes fleeting, sometimes excruciating, hand pain can quickly sideline your day even making it difficult to work or go about daily tasks.
What Can Hand Pain Mean?
As anatomically complex as the hand is, it’s no surprise that a variety of conditions can affect it including both disease and injury. Hand pain is, in many ways, often related to joint pain. Such joint pain can be related to the human body’s inability to metabolize enough glycine or any number of other acute or chronic issues. Here you’ll find three common causes of hand pain and some basic thoughts on how to understand and handle them.
The most common source of hand pain, arthritic inflammation can truly affect any joint in the body. With more than 16 joints per hand, however, it’s easy to see how the hands might be the most affected at times, especially with certain types of this condition, like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
What is Arthritis?
More common among older adults, osteoarthritis results from the natural degradation of the joints from lifetime wear-and-tear. Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is an autoimmune condition in which the joints become inflamed.
Symptoms of Arthritis
Typical arthritis of the hands’ symptoms can include:
- Swelling around joints
- Dull or burning pain in finger joints or wrist
- Stiffness and limited range of motion
- Pain in and around the joints (often in the morning)
- Warmth and tenderness around joints
- A feeling of friction in the joints (i.e. grinding or grading)
- A sensation of looseness in the joints
Common Arthritis Treatments
In addition to taking anti-inflammatories and other medications as prescribed or recommended by your doctor, if you suffer from arthritis in your hands you may benefit from therapy compression gloves, splinting, physical therapy, occupational therapy, steroid injections, and in severe cases, surgery.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that more occupations are contributing to carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) than were previously thought. Looking at 7 years of data from workers compensation claims made in California, researchers found that jobs in industries including textiles and apparel, animal slaughtering and processing, material moving, grocery stores, and public administration amongst others were most likely to preclude workers to developing CTS.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, exactly?
As the most common form of entrapment neuropathy, CTS results when the median nerve that runs down the arm and to the hand becomes pinched or squeezed by the narrow channel it runs through in the wrist, the carpal tunnel. Overuse of the hands and wrist to lift heavy objects (i.e. warehouse handlers), repeat the same motions over and over (i.e. sewing or butchering), or rest in awkward positions (i.e. during computer work) are the leading risk factors for CTS.
Carpal Tunnel Symptoms
Symptoms of CTS include:
- Wrist and hand pain, especially during the night
- Hand weakness and decreased grip strength
- Numbness, pain, or tingling in the wrist and hand
- Swelling sensation in the fingers (without actual swelling)
- Stiffness and aching of the hand and wrist, especially in the morning
Common Carpal Tunnel Treatments
As an overuse injury, CTS can largely be treated with the R.I.C.E. method (rest, ice, compression, elevation). Your doctor may also talk to you about avoiding certain activities, splinting or bracing your wrist, taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatories or getting steroid injections. In severe cases, surgery may be required, however, other less-invasive treatment methods like physical therapy, stretching and acupuncture may be tried first.
De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis
Commonly referred to as “mommy thumb”, De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis is actually a painful condition affecting the hand which can make grasping, pinching, and gripping things quite difficult. Like CTS, De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis most often results from repeated hand or wrist movement which inflames tendons in the thumb side of the wrist. New moms often develop it from picking their babies up over and over (hence “mommy thumb”) but it also affects may golfers and people who garden or play racquet sports.
De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis Symptoms
Symptoms of De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis include:
- Pain and swelling near the base of the thumb
- A locking or sticking sensation when you move your thumb
- Stiffness and limited ability to move your thumb when pinching or gripping something
- Pain that radiates back into your forearm or worsens with wrist movement
Common De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis Treatments
Because chronic overuse can cause tendons to inflame, thicken, and swell, it is critical that people who believe they have De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis avoid the actions which exacerbate the condition. This not only includes resting and potentially using orthotic aids to splint or brace the thumb and wrist but finding alternate ways of picking up your baby, for example.
In addition to rest, experts recommend treating De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis with cold therapy and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. If the pain or restricted movement does not let up, you may want to talk to your doctor about physical therapy, steroid injections, or surgery.
Hand pain, no matter how mild, can be the warning sign of deeper issues such as Arthritis or systemic inflammation. Learning to spot the warning signs, seeking the consult of a licensed professional, and seeking to positively alter your lifestyle are powerful first-steps. The battle for good health is fierce and broadening your awareness of what hand pain means and how to address it can help support your wellness over the long term!