What causes hand pain?

Hand pain can be caused by irritation and inflammation due to a variety of mild to serious diseases, disorders and conditions, such as trauma, infection, autoimmune diseases, and nerve compression. For example, tingling pain in the fingers can be due to compression of the nerves that carry sensation messages from the hand and fingers to the spinal cord.

Hand joints, such as the knuckles, are particularly vulnerable to injury and other conditions, such as arthritis. Joints are complicated structures and consist of cartilage, ligaments that hold bones together, bursas (fluid-filled sacs that help cushion the joint), and synovial membranes and fluid, which lubricate the joints.

In some cases, hand pain is a symptom of a serious condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting, such as a broken bone or invasive bacterial infection.

Injury-related causes of hand pain

Hand pain can occur from the following types of injuries:

  • Contusion or abrasion

  • Crush injury

  • Degloving injury (separation of the skin and top layer of tissue from the finger and possibly the hand)

  • Dislocated finger

  • Fractured finger, hand or wrist bone

  • Hand ligament sprain

  • Hand muscle strain

  • Laceration or blunt force trauma such as a dog bite

  • Repetitive stress injury

  • Splinter or other foreign body

Degenerative, infectious and inflammatory causes of hand pain

Hand pain can be associated with inflammatory or infectious conditions, or problems associated with aging and wear and tear on joints over time including:

  • Bursitis (inflammation of a bursa sac that protects and cushions joints)

  • Cellulitis (invasive skin infection that can spread to the surrounding tissues)

  • Ganglion cyst (benign growth or swelling on top of a joint or tendon)

  • Infection, such as cellulitis caused by a Staphylococcus aureus bacterial infection

  • Osteoarthritis (breakdown of joint cartilage over time causing stiffness and pain) and age-related wear and tear on the joints

  • Paronychia (infection around the nail)

  • Rheumatoid arthritis (chronic autoimmune disease characterized by joint inflammation)

  • Septic arthritis (infectious arthritis or infection of a joint)

  • Tendonitis (inflammation of a tendon)

  • Tenosynovitis (inflammation of the sheaths that enclose tendons)

Neurological causes of hand pain

Hand pain and tingling or numbness in the fingers may be caused by moderate to serious conditions that compress nerves and can lead to nerve damage. A variety of other conditions can also cause more widespread nerve damage. Neurological causes of hand pain include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome (compression in the wrist area of the nerve that provides feeling and movement to the palm and thumb side of the hand)

  • Cervical spondylosis (degenerative disk disease in the neck)

  • Heavy metal poisoning such as lead poisoning

  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)

  • Multiple sclerosis (disease that affects the brain and spinal cord causing weakness, lack of coordination, balance difficulties, and other problems)

  • Neuroma (mass or tumor that grows on a nerve)

  • Peripheral neuropathy (damage to the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord)

  • Spinal cord injury or tumor

  • Stroke

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues)

  • Transverse myelitis (neurological disorder causing inflammation of the spinal cord and possibly arm weakness)

  • Vitamin B12 deficiency

Other causes of hand pain

Hand pain can be associated with other conditions including:

  • Buerger’s disease (acute inflammation and clotting of arteries and veins of the fingers)

  • Frostbite or extremely cold temperatures

  • Raynaud’s disease or phenomenon (spasms of small blood vessels of the fingers and toes, reducing blood circulation). Raynaud’s disease is when the cause is not known. Raynaud's phenomenon is secondary to another condition, including many autoimmune disorders such as lupus.

Questions for diagnosing the cause of hand pain

To diagnose the underlying cause of hand pain, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your symptoms. Providing complete answers to these questions will help your provider diagnose the cause of your hand pain:

  • What is the exact location of the pain?

  • Describe the pain. Is it sharp or dull, tingling or burning? When did it start? How long does it last? Does the pain occur during or after certain activities?

  • Have you had any recent injuries, including exposure to cold or frostbite?

  • Do you have any other symptoms, such as swelling?

  • What is your full medical history? What medications do you take? Do you smoke?

What are the potential complications of hand pain?

Complications associated with hand pain vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition and can be serious. It is important to contact your health care provider when you experience persistent pain or other symptoms related to your fingers, hands or wrists. Following the treatment plan you and your health care provider develop specifically for you will minimize the risk of complications including:

  • Chronic disability

  • Gangrene (tissue death) and amputation

  • Inability to perform daily tasks

  • Permanent finger or hand deformity

  • Spread of infection to other tissues including the blood (septicemia)

References:

  1. About Peripheral Neuropathy: Facts. The Neuropathy Association. http://www.neuropathy.org/site/PageServer?pagename=About_Facts..
  2. Arthritis of the Hand. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00224
  3. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/carpal_tunnel/detail_carpal_tunnel.htm
  4. Finger pain. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003248.htm..
  5. Hand Pain and Problems. The Ohio State University Medical Center. http://medicalcenter.osu.edu/patientcare/healthcare_services/orthopaedics/hand/Pages/index.aspx
  6. Hand/Wrist/Arm problems. Family Doctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/tools/symptom/526.html
  7. Neuromas of the Hand and Upper Extremity. The Journal of Hand Surgery. http://www.jhandsurg.org/article/S0363-5023(09)01121-6/abstract.
  8. Transverse Myelitis Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/transversemyelitis/detail_transversemyelitis.htm
  9. What Is Raynaud’s? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/raynaud/.
INTRODUCTION

What is hand pain?

Hand pain includes any kind of discomfort in the tissues or joints of the hand or fingers. Hand pain may be described as throbbing, aching, increased warmth, tingling, soreness, or stiffness. Burning or prickling sensations in the hand or fingers, often called pins and needles, are paresthesias. Paresthesias are often due to temporary or permanent damage or pressure on the nerves that carry sen... Read more about hand painintroduction

SYMPTOMS

What other symptoms might occur with hand pain?

Other symptoms may occur with hand pain. Additional symptoms vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. For example, hand pain due to a serious infection that has spread to the blood may be accompanied by swelling, fever and chills, as well as redness and warmth around the affected area.
Read more about hand painsymptoms

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 2, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Bones, Joints and Muscles


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