Common Causes of Wrist Pain

Ouch! Why Does My Wrist Hurt?

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Studio Firma/Stocksy United

Wrist pain is an extremely common complaint and there are many common causes of this problem. It is important to make an accurate diagnosis of the cause of your symptoms so that appropriate treatment can be directed at the cause. If you have wrist pain, some common causes include:

  • Wrist Tendonitis
    Tendonitis is a common problem that can cause wrist pain and swelling. Wrist tendonitis is due to inflammation of the tendon sheath. Treatment of wrist pain caused by tendonitis usually does not require surgery.
  • Wrist Sprains
    Wrist sprains are common injuries to the ligaments around the wrist joint. Sprains can cause problems by limiting the use of our hands.
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
    Carpal tunnel syndrome is the condition that results from dysfunction of one of the nerves in the wrist. In carpal tunnel syndrome, the median nerve is compressed, or pinched off, as it passes through the wrist joint.
  • Arthritis
    Arthritis is a problem that can cause wrist pain and difficulty performing normal activities. There are several causes of arthritis, and fortunately, there are a number of treatments for wrist arthritis.
  • Ganglion Cyst
    A ganglion cyst is a swelling that usually occurs over the back of the hand or wrist. These are benign, fluid-filled capsules. Ganglion cysts are not cancerous, will not spread, and while they may grow, they will not spread to other parts of your body.
  • Broken Wrist
    A wrist fracture is a common orthopedic injury. Patients who sustain a broken wrist may be treated in a cast, or they may need surgery for the fracture.

    Should You Call the Doctor?

    If you are unsure of the cause of your wrist pain, or if you do not know the specific treatment recommendations for your condition, you should seek medical attention. Treatment of these conditions must be directed at the specific cause of your problem. Some signs that you should be seen by a doctor include:

    • Inability to carry objects or use the arm
    • Injury that causes deformity of the joint
    • Wrist pain that occurs at night or while resting
    • Wrist pain that persists beyond a few days
    • Inability to straighten or flex the joint
    • Swelling or significant bruising around the joint or forearm
    • Signs of an infection, including fever, redness, warmth
    • Any other unusual symptoms


    Treating wrist pain depends entirely on the cause of the problem. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that you understand the cause of your symptoms before embarking on a treatment program. If you are unsure of your diagnosis, or how severe your condition is, you should seek medical advice before beginning any treatment.

    Not all treatments listed here are appropriate for every condition, but may be helpful in your situation.

    • Rest and Activity Modification: The first treatment for many common conditions that cause wrist pain is to rest the joint and allow the acute inflammation to subside. It is important, however, to use caution when resting the joint because prolonged immobilization can cause a stiff joint. Adjusting your activities so as not to irritate the joint can help prevent worsening of wrist pain.
    • Ice and Heat Application: Ice packs and heat pads are among the most commonly used treatments for wrist pain. So which one is the right one to use: ice or heat? And how long should the ice or heat treatments last? Find out here.
    • Wrist Support: Support braces can help patients who have either a recent wrist sprain injury or those who tend to injure their wrists easily. These braces act as a gentle support to wrist movements. They will not prevent severe injuries but may help you perform simple activities while rehabilitating from a wrist sprain.
    • Anti-Inflammatory Medication: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain medications, commonly referred to as NSAIDs, are some of the most commonly prescribed medications, especially for patients with wrist pain caused by problems such as arthritis and tendonitis.
    • Cortisone Injections: Cortisone is a powerful medication that treats inflammation—and inflammation is a common problem in patients with wrist pain. Discuss with your doctor the possible benefits of a cortisone injection for your wrist pain condition.
    • Arthroscopic Wrist Surgery: Some wrist conditions require a surgical procedure for diagnosis or treatment. Arthroscopic surgery is a treatment option available for some causes of wrist pain.

    Not every patient with wrist pain will find relief with these treatments, however some simple steps will be effective for the vast majority of people. If you find your symptoms persist despite appropriate treatment, you may want to discuss with your doctor what the next steps might be. While surgery may be an option, most people choose this as a step only if they fail to find relief with these steps listed above.

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