When to Seek Medical Help for Hand and Wrist Pain

Hand and wrist pain isn’t considered a severe issue and is mostly resolved with simple self-care measures at home within a few days or weeks. Such pain often results from sudden injuries like fractures or sprains. However, it can also be a significant symptom of arthritis. Conditions or disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive stress can cause wrist pain and discomfort.

If your hand and wrist pain symptoms persist for more than ten days despite self-care measures, it is advisable to seek medical attention. 

An orthopaedic doctor specializes in treating injuries and painful wrist and hand conditions. This article aims to provide a brief overview of hand and wrist pain and guide readers on when to seek professional medical help. So, let’s dive in.

Signs and Symptoms of Hand and Wrist Pain

Depending on the underlying cause of pain on top of the hand and wrist, it may be accompanied by the following symptoms:

  • Numbness or tingling sensation
  • Swelling
  • Redness or warmth
  • Stiffness
  • Weakness or decreased grip strength
  • Difficulty moving the hand or wrist

Generally, when the pain is due to osteoarthritis, it is often accompanied by a dull toothache, whereas pain caused due to carpal tunnel syndrome results in tingling in the index, middle fingers, and thumb, particularly during the night.

If an individual notices a lump on the top of their wrist that feels smooth to the touch, they have probably developed a Ganglion cyst. In contrast, if a person experiences sudden and intense pain in their wrist, accompanied by a snapping or popping sound after a wrist injury, it could indicate a possible fracture.

When to Seek Medical Help for Hand and Wrist Pain

If you are experiencing excruciating pain in your hands and wrists, you must seek medical help immediately. Below are some factors that can help you know when to consult a healthcare professional.

  • Symptoms Requiring Immediate Medical Attention

Immediate care is necessary if an individual can’t move the wrist and experiences extreme pain, numbness, or deformity. A bruised hand also requires immediate medical intervention. If there is substantial bleeding from the wrist or hand, it is crucial to seek emergency medical assistance immediately.

  • Symptoms Requiring Prompt Medical Attention

Some definite signs and symptoms highlight a more serious cause of your hand and wrist pain. Get prompt medical attention if you experience the following:

  1. Pain for more than a few days
  2. Trouble flexing or straightening the joint
  3. Inability to carry heavy objects
  4. Mild deformity in your joint
  5. Pain while resting or at night
  6. Extreme bruising or swelling in the forearm or around the joint
  7. Signs of an infection such as redness, warmth and fever
  8. Tingling or numbness of the wrist or hands
  • Symptoms That a Primary Care Physician Usually evaluates

You need to see a primary care physician if:

  • The pain is getting worse, and you can’t perform daily activities
  • The pain doesn’t improve after self-care at home
  • You have diabetes
  • You feel numbness in your hand(s)
  • You feel your body is overheated
  • Your arm is stiff and swollen

Diagnostic Tests and Examinations

The physician recommends certain diagnostic tests to mark the actual cause of the hand and wrist pain.

  • Physical Examination

The healthcare provider, during a physical examination, looks for swelling, bruises, muscle deformity and skin changes in the hand and wrists. The provider then evaluates any tenderness or deformity in your wrist. They also test the range of motion of your hand and wrist.

  • X-rays

X-rays, in general, are the most common diagnostic examination tests for hand and wrist pain. Your healthcare practitioner will primarily recommend an X-ray as it can reveal signs of osteoarthritis or bone fractures.

  • MRI or CT scan

When it’s complicated to identify the cause of the wrist pain with X-rays, physicians recommend imaging tests such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Computed Tomography (CT) scan. These tests can highlight soft-tissue problems and fractures. For instance, imaging tests can help detect scaphoid fractures.   

  • Electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies

To analyse the health of the nerves and muscles, the healthcare provider may recommend electromyography (EMG). You might be subjected to a nerve conduction velocity test to evaluate nerve damage, which can trigger hand and wrist pain. 

Treatment Options for Hand and Wrist Pain

There are definite hand and wrist pain treatment options depending on the level of pain, which are as follows:

  • Non-Surgical Treatments

Resting the injured hand and wrist is a common method of treatment for wrist pain, which can aid in expedited healing. Applying ice packs to the affected area can help alleviate pain and reduce swelling.

  • Surgical Treatments

Surgery is required to heal bone fractures and repair tendons and ligaments.

  • Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can enhance your flexibility and range of motion, strengthening the hand and wrist muscles.

  • Occupational Therapy

It is a post-surgical rehabilitation procedure to control swelling and pain after hand and wrist surgery. Occupational therapy helps regain fine motor abilities and hand and wrist dexterity.

  • Pain Management

Pain relievers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen may decrease hand and wrist pain. 

Preventive Measures for Hand and Wrist Pain

Although it’s impossible to restrict unforeseen situations that can stimulate hand and wrist pain, these simple tips may generate some protection:

  • Ergonomic Modifications

You must take regular breaks if you spend extensive hours at a keyboard. You can also use an ergonomic keyboard with a gel or foam wrist support.

  • Stretching and Strengthening Exercises

Strengthening and stretching exercises will help overcome wrist mobility issues. You can ask your physiotherapist to show you some simple hand and wrist exercises.

  • Taking Breaks and Rest Periods

Take adequate breaks from activities that can enhance the pain. Try to rest your hands on their sides. Avoid resting them on your wrists.

  • Wearing Proper Gear and Equipment

Wear wrist guards for high-risk activities such as rollerblading, snowboarding and football. 


If the wrist pain becomes unbearable and swelling does not decrease after a few days of home care, it’s high time you should consult a general physician for hand pain treatment. Most conditions are treated efficiently with exercises, medications or surgeries. 

An early diagnosis and treatment will prevent an individual from developing a complicated diseased state. Book an appointment today with your physician if you have been experiencing wrist pain for a long time.

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