Wrist Pain

Reviewed on 4/21/2022

What Is Wrist Pain?

Wrist pain occurs due to disease or injury to any of the structures in or near the wrist, such as bones, tendons, nerves, muscles, soft tissues, and skin. Inflammation of the wrist joint due to arthritis conditions is one cause of wrist pain. Repetitive motion injuries and carpal tunnel syndrome are other common causes. Strains, sprains, broken bones, and other injuries may all cause pain in the wrist joint.

The signs and symptoms associated with wrist pain are varied and depend on the nature of the injury or the exact cause. Associated symptoms and signs can include joint swelling, redness, numbness, tingling, limited range of motion, joint stiffness, and cramping. The pain may radiate to the hand or arm or may remain localized to the wrist, depending on the source of the pain. The wrist is the joint that is part of the hand that is nearest the forearm and consists of the carpal bones and the associated soft tissues. The eight carpal bones are arranged in two rows. One row of carpal bones joins the long bones of the forearm (the radius, and, indirectly, the ulna). Another row of carpal bones meets the hand at the five metacarpal bones that make up the palm.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of a Wrist Injury?

The amount of pain or the ability to move the wrist does not reliably determine whether the wrist is broken or sprained. Signs and symptoms of wrist injury include the following:

  • Swelling
  • Heat/warmth
  • Pain
  • Discoloration
  • Limited ability to move the joint
  • Deformity

What Causes Wrist Pain?

  • The most common cause of wrist injuries is a fall on an outstretched hand.
  • Wrist pain from repetitive use that results in inflammation of the tendons (tendonitis). This is termed a repetitive motion injury and is not a true sprain.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome is another common wrist injury that may occur from repetitive motion.

When to Seek Medical Care for Wrist Pain

  • If you have severe pain, deformity, numbness, or are unable to move your wrist, you should call your doctor for an immediate appointment, go to an urgent care clinic, or go to a hospital's emergency department.
  • If there is no deformity and the pain is manageable with over-the-counter pain medication, you may want to wait 12-24 hours before deciding whether to call the doctor. If symptoms persist after a day, see a doctor.
  • If you have obvious deformity, numbness, or severe pain, you need medical attention.
  • If there is obvious deformity or severe swelling, there may be a broken bone that needs to be moved back into its normal position.
  • There also can be a dislocation where the bones are no longer in the correct position, although they are not broken.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Symptoms, Signs, and Causes

Carpal tunnel syndrome is an irritation of a nerve in the wrist, which causes symptoms of numbness, tingling, pain, and weakness in the hand. Risk factors for developing carpal tunnel syndrome include diabetes, hypothyroidism, alcoholism, pregnancy, wrist fractures, and arthritis.

Reviewed on 4/21/2022
Boggess, Blake Reid. "Evaluation of the adult with acute wrist pain." UpToDate. Sept. 7, 2021. <https://www.uptodate.com/contents/evaluation-of-the-adult-with-acute-wrist-pain>.