Finger, Hand, and Wrist Problems, Noninjury
Top of the pageCheck Your Symptoms
Everyone has had a minor problem with a finger, hand, or wrist. Most of the
time our body movements do not cause problems, but it’s not surprising that
symptoms occur from everyday wear and tear or from overuse. Finger, hand, or wrist
problems can also be caused by injuries or the natural process of aging.
Your fingers, hands, or wrists may burn, sting, or hurt, or feel tired, sore,
stiff, numb, tingly, hot, or cold. Maybe you can’t move them as well as usual,
or they are swollen. Perhaps your hands have turned a different color, such as
red, pale, or blue. A lump or bump might have appeared on your wrist, palm, or
fingers. Home treatment is often all that is needed to relieve your
Finger, hand, or wrist problems may be caused by an
injury. If you think an injury caused your problem, see the topic
Finger, Hand, and Wrist Injuries. But there are many
other causes of finger, hand, or wrist problems.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by pressure on a nerve (median nerve) in the
wrist. The symptoms include tingling, numbness, weakness, or pain of the
fingers and hand.
- Tendon pain is
actually a symptom of tendinosis, a series of very small tears (microtears) in
the tissue in or around the
tendon. In addition to pain and tenderness, common
symptoms of tendon injury include decreased strength and movement in the
- De Quervain’s disease can occur in the
hand and wrist when tendons and the tendon covering (sheath) on the thumb side
of the wrist swell and become inflamed. See a picture of
de Quervain’s disease.
- Repetitive motion syndrome is a term
used to describe symptoms such as pain, swelling, or tenderness that occur from
repeating the same motion over and over.
- Writer’s cramps develop with repeated hand or finger
motion, such as writing or typing.
- Trigger finger or trigger thumb occurs when the flexor
tendon and its sheath in a finger or thumb thicken or swell.
Bone, muscle, or joint problems
- Dupuytren’s disease is an abnormal thickening of tissue beneath the skin in the palm
of the hand or hands and occasionally the soles of the feet. The thickened skin
and tendons (palmar fascia) may eventually limit movement or cause the fingers
to bend so that they can’t be straightened. See a picture of
- Ganglion cysts are small sacs (cysts) filled with
clear, jellylike fluid that often appear as bumps on the hands and wrists but
can also develop on feet, ankles, knees, or shoulders. See a picture of a
Problems from medical conditions
- Tingling or pain in the fingers or hand
(especially the left hand) may be
signs of a heart attack.
- Diabetes may change how the hands normally feel or
sense touch. Decreased feeling in the hands is common because of decreased
blood flow to the hands or damage to
nerves of the hand.
- Pregnancy may cause
redness, itching, swelling, numbness, or tingling that often goes away after
- Osteoarthritis is the progressive
breakdown of the tissue that protects and cushions joints (cartilage). It may
cause stiffness and pain with movement.
- Rheumatoid arthritis may cause stiffness and pain with
movement. Over time, deformity of the fingers may occur. See a picture of
- Lupus is a long-lasting autoimmune
disease in which the immune system attacks normal body tissues as though they
were foreign substances. It may cause joint pain.
- Gout is an inflammatory joint disease that causes
acute pain and swelling. It is a form of arthritis that develops when uric acid
crystals form in and around the joints, commonly affecting the big toe
- Raynaud’s phenomenon is a condition in
which some areas of the body, usually the fingers or toes, have an extreme
response to cold temperature or emotional stress. During an attack of
Raynaud’s, the blood vessels in the affected areas tighten, severely limiting
the flow of blood to the skin, causing numbness, tingling, swelling, pain,
and pale color.
- Infection can cause pain, redness, and
swelling that occur with red streaking, heat, fever, or the drainage of pus. An
infection often causes tenderness to the touch or pain with movement at the
site of the infection.
Check your symptoms to decide if and when
you should see a doctor.
Check Your Symptoms
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind
of care you may need. These include:
- Your age. Babies and older
adults tend to get sicker quicker.
- Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart
disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care
- Medicines you take. Certain
medicines, herbal remedies, and supplements can cause symptoms or make them
- Recent health events, such as surgery
or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them
- Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug
use, sexual history, and travel.
Try Home Treatment
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be
able to take care of this problem at home.
- Try home treatment to relieve the
- Call your doctor if symptoms get worse or you have any
concerns (for example, if symptoms are not getting better as you would expect).
You may need care sooner.
Symptoms of infection may
- Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness in or
around the area.
- Red streaks leading from the area.
- Pus draining from the area.
- A fever.
Pain in adults and older children
- Severe pain (8 to 10): The pain
is so bad that you can’t stand it for more than a few hours, can’t sleep, and
can’t do anything else except focus on the pain.
- Moderate pain (5 to 7): The pain is bad enough to disrupt your
normal activities and your sleep, but you can tolerate it for hours or days.
Moderate can also mean pain that comes and goes even if it’s severe when it’s
- Mild pain (1 to 4): You notice the pain,
but it is not bad enough to disrupt your sleep or activities.
When an area turns blue, very pale, or cold, it can mean that there has been a sudden change in the blood
supply to the area. This can be serious.
There are other reasons
for color and temperature changes. Bruises often look blue. A limb may turn
blue or pale if you leave it in one position for too long, but its normal color
returns after you move it. What you are looking for is a change in how the area
looks (it turns blue or pale) and feels (it becomes cold to the touch), and
this change does not go away.
Pain in children under 3 years
It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.
- Severe pain (8 to 10): The
pain is so bad that the baby cannot sleep, cannot get comfortable, and cries
constantly no matter what you do. The baby may kick, make fists, or
- Moderate pain (5 to 7): The baby is
very fussy, clings to you a lot, and may have trouble sleeping but responds
when you try to comfort him or her.
- Mild pain (1 to 4): The baby is a little fussy and clings to you a little but responds
when you try to comfort him or her.
Pain in children 3 years and older
- Severe pain (8 to 10): The pain
is so bad that the child can’t stand it for more than a few hours, can’t sleep,
and can’t do anything else except focus on the pain. No one can tolerate severe
pain for more than a few hours.
- Moderate pain (5 to 7): The pain is bad enough to disrupt the child’s normal activities and
sleep, but the child can tolerate it for hours or days.
- Mild pain (1 to 4): The child notices and may complain of the pain,
but it is not bad enough to disrupt his or her sleep or activities.
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system’s ability to fight off infection and
illness. Some examples in adults are:
- Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease,
- Long-term alcohol and drug
- Steroid medicines, which may be used to treat a variety
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for
- Other medicines used to treat autoimmune
- Medicines taken after organ transplant.
having a spleen.
Seek Care Today
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The
problem probably will not get better without medical care.
- Call your doctor today to discuss the symptoms
and arrange for care.
- If you cannot reach your doctor or you don’t
have one, seek care today.
- If it is evening, watch the symptoms and
seek care in the morning.
- If the symptoms get worse, seek care
Seek Care Now
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
- Call your doctor now to discuss the symptoms and
arrange for care.
- If you cannot reach your doctor or you don’t have
one, seek care in the next hour.
- You do not need to call an
- You cannot travel safely either by driving
yourself or by having someone else drive you.
- You are in an area
where heavy traffic or other problems may slow you down.
- You cannot travel safely either by driving
Make an Appointment
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical
- Make an appointment to see your doctor in the
next 1 to 2 weeks.
- If appropriate, try home treatment while you
are waiting for the appointment.
- If symptoms get worse or you have
any concerns, call your doctor. You may need care sooner.
Call 911 Now
Based on your answers, you need
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
Home treatment may be all that is
needed for a finger, hand, or wrist problem.
- Remove all rings, bracelets, watches,
or any other jewelry from your finger, wrist, or arm as soon as you notice
swelling. It will be harder to remove the jewelry after swelling
rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) for pain and
- Treat hands sensitive to cold by avoiding and
protecting your hands from the cold.
- Avoid sleeping on your hands,
which may decrease blood flow to your fingers.
- Treat blisters on fingers or hands.
- Stop, change, or take a break from your activities.
| Try a nonprescription
medicine to help treat your pain:
Talk to your child’s doctor before switching back and
| Be sure to follow these
safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
Symptoms to watch for during home treatment
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home
- Pain or swelling develops.
- Signs of infection develop.
tingling; or cool, pale skin develops.
- Symptoms continue despite
- Symptoms become more severe or frequent.
The following tips may prevent finger,
hand, and wrist problems.
- Do exercises that strengthen your hand and arm
- Stop, change, or take a break from activities that cause
- Reduce the speed and force of repetitive movements
in activities such as hammering, typing, knitting, quilting, sweeping, raking,
playing racquet sports, or rowing.
- Change positions when holding
objects, such as a book or playing cards, for any length of
- Use your whole hand to grasp an object. Gripping with only
your thumb and index finger can stress your wrist.
- When you work
with tools that vibrate, consider using special gloves that support the wrist
and have vibration-absorbing padding.
- Wear protective gear, such as
wrist guards, in sports activities.
Protect your hands from cold
- Wear gloves anytime it is cool
- Use an insulated cover when you drink from a cold
- Avoid caffeine (coffee, cola, tea, chocolate) and tobacco
products. Nicotine and caffeine cause blood vessels to narrow, which decreases
blood flow to the hands.
- Eat a hot meal before going out. Eating
raises your body temperature and helps keep you warm.
Work posture and body mechanics
- Organize your work so that you can change your
position occasionally while maintaining a comfortable
- Position your work so you do not have to turn excessively
to either side.
- Keep your shoulders relaxed when your arms are
hanging by your sides.
- When using a keyboard, keep your forearms
parallel to the floor or slightly lowered and keep your fingers lower than your
wrists. Allow your arms and hands to move freely. Take frequent breaks to
stretch your fingers, hands, wrist, shoulders, and neck. If you use a wrist pad
during breaks from typing, it’s best to rest your palm or the heel of your hand
on the support, rather than your wrist.
Preparing For Your Appointment
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your
doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the
- What are your main symptoms? How long have you
had your symptoms?
- Have you had this problem in the past? If so, do
you know what caused the problem at that time? How was it treated? What do you
think is causing your symptoms now?
- What activities make your
symptoms better or worse? Have you started any new activities, sports, or
- Do you think that activities related to your
job or hobbies caused your symptoms?
- What home treatment have you
tried? Did it help?
- What nonprescription medicines have you tried?
Did they help?
- Have you started any new medicines, or have you had
a change in the dosage of a medicine?
- Do you have any
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP – Emergency Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD – Family Medicine
Current as ofApril 7, 2017
Current as of:
April 7, 2017