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If the wrist joint becomes painful or stiff it can interfere with the ability to work on a computer, or at another job that requires repetitive use of the hands and wrists. It can also limit the ability to participate in sports such as tennis or golf.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
Since there are many causes of pain and stiffness in the wrist, it is important to obtain an accurate diagnosis. Then the right treatment approach can be chosen to help improve these symptoms.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common cause of pain and stiffness in the wrists 1. It occurs when the nerves that travel through the wrist become compressed, states the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke 1. Along with pain and stiffness, there may be numbness, tingling sensations and weakness in the hand. In many cases, there is a predisposition to this condition as some people are born with a narrower opening in the wrists than others. This limits the space through which nerves can travel. Repetitive wrist motions during computer use and other activities may exacerbate the problem.
Carpal tunnel syndrome can also occur after an injury. A physical exam and nerve conduction tests can be used to confirm a diagnosis.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common cause of pain and stiffness in the wrists 1.
A Torn Ligament in a Thumb
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the most common types of arthritis that affect the wrist 2. Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage between the bones of the wrist begins to wear away. This can happen during the normal process of aging, or can be the result of an injury. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the synovial lining of the joint becomes inflamed and swollen.
Osteoarthritis can occur in just one wrist, while rheumatoid arthritis usually affects both wrists. Gout, which is a buildup of uric acid in the blood is another form of arthritis that occurs in the wrist. A physical exam, x-rays, scans and blood tests can all be used to determine if arthritis is causing wrist pain and stiffness. Arthritis of the wrists usually also causes weakness and reduced range of motion 2.
- According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the most common types of arthritis that affect the wrist 2.
- Osteoarthritis can occur in just one wrist, while rheumatoid arthritis usually affects both wrists.
All the joints, including the wrist, contain ligaments that connect the bones to each other.
If the ligament becomes stretched, irritated or torn, it is called a sprain. The American Society for Surgery of the Hand claims that sprains are classified based on severity 3. A grade 1 occurs when there is an injury to the ligament, grade 2 means there is a partial tear, and grade 3 is diagnosed when there is a complete tear.
A sprain can occur due to an injury that forces the hand back, such as when breaking a fall. It can also be the result of overusing the wrist joint such as when swinging a club, racket or any activity that requires repetitive bending of the wrist. A physical exam, x-rays and MRI's can be used to see if a sprain is causing the symptoms. Along with pain and stiffness, sprains often cause swelling and joint instability.
- All the joints, including the wrist, contain ligaments that connect the bones to each other.
- A sprain can occur due to an injury that forces the hand back, such as when breaking a fall.
How to Get Rid of Tennis Elbow
Along with ligaments, the wrist joint also has tendons that connect the muscles to the bones. Just like ligaments, they can become overstretched or inflamed causing a condition called tendonitis. In most cases, wrist tendonitis is caused by overusing the wrist while participating in a sport that involves a lot of throwing, catching or swinging. It can also be the result of too much typing, or from another occupation that requires a lot of wrist motion.
With wrist tendonitis, the joint will be tender to the touch, swollen and stiff. A physical exam can help to diagnose this condition.
- Along with ligaments, the wrist joint also has tendons that connect the muscles to the bones.
- In most cases, wrist tendonitis is caused by overusing the wrist while participating in a sport that involves a lot of throwing, catching or swinging.
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- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Fact Sheet
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Arthritis of the Wrist
- American Society for Surgery of the Hand: Wrist Sprains
- Buffalo University Sports Medicine: Wrist Tendonitis
- Bass E. Tendinopathy: why the difference between tendinitis and tendinosis matters. Int J Ther Massage Bodywork. 2012;5(1):14-7.
- How can tenosynovitis be treated? Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). 2018.
- Chatterjee R, Vyas J. Diagnosis and management of intersection syndrome as a cause of overuse wrist pain. BMJ Case Rep. 2016;2016. doi:10.1136/bcr-2016-216988
- Wrist Sprain. What is it? Harvard Health Publishing. Harvard Medical School. 2019.
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- Jennings JD, Zielinski E, Tosti R, Ilyas AM. Septic Arthritis of the Wrist: Incidence, Risk Factors, and Predictors of Infection. Orthopedics. 2017;40(3):e526-e531. doi:10.3928/01477447-20170404-01
- Gregush R, Habusta S. Ganglion Cyst. StatPearls Publishing. 2019.
- Cutts S. Cubital tunnel syndrome. Postgrad Med J. 2007;83(975):28-31. doi:10.1136/pgmj.2006.047456
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- Caridi JM, Pumberger M, Hughes AP. Cervical radiculopathy: a review. HSS J. 2011;7(3):265-72. doi:10.1007/s11420-011-9218-z
- Paavola M, Kannus P, Järvinen TA, Järvinen TL, Józsa L, Järvinen M. Treatment of tendon disorders. Is there a role for corticosteroid injection?. Foot Ankle Clin. 2002;7(3):501-13.
- Adams JE, Habbu R. Tendinopathies of the Hand and Wrist. J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2015 Dec;23(12):741-50.
- Dale AM, Harris-Adamson D, Rempel D, e al. Prevalence and incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome in US working populations: pooled analysis of six prospective studies. Scand J Work, Environ & Health. 2013;39(5):495-505. DOI: 10.5271/sjweh.3351.
- Goldfarb CA, Puri SK, Carlson MG. Diagnosis, Treatment, and Return to Play for Four Common Sports Injuries of the Hand and Wrist. J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2016 Dec;24(12):853-862.
- Shehab R, Mirabelli MH. Evaluation and Diagnosis of Wrist Pain: A Case-Based Approach. Am Fam Physician. 2013 Apr 15;87(8):568-73.
I hold a Master's degree in exercise physiology/health promotion. I am a certified fitness specialist through the American College of Spots Medicine and an IYT certified yoga teacher. I have over 25 years experience teaching classes to both general public and those with chronic illness. The above allows me to write directly to the reader based on personal experiences.