Your wrist is an intricate structure made up of eight small bones (carpal bones) at the base of your hand and the ends of two long bones in your forearm (radius and ulna). These bones are connected by ligaments and attached to the surrounding muscles by tendons. The bone surfaces are coated with cushioning cartilage, which allows them to glide smoothly against each other during movement. The median nerve—the major nerve to your hand—runs through your wrist in a narrow passageway (carpal tunnel). Because all of these components must work seamlessly together to facilitate fine hand movements, an injury to any one of them can cause wrist pain.
In some situations, the reason your wrist hurts will be readily apparent. For instance, if the pain came on suddenly after you broke a fall with your outstretched hand, you may have fractured a bone or sprained a ligament in your wrist. However, wrist pain can have less obvious causes, too, such as:
A type of wear-and-tear arthritis, osteoarthritis is a progressive breakdown of joint cartilage. As the cartilage in the wrist gradually wears away, the unprotected bone surfaces may begin to grind against each other during movement, leading to wrist pain and stiffness. In many cases, osteoarthritis develops along with the natural aging process due to the effects of repetitive use over time.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Often a result of repetitive hand movements, carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve is pressured at the point where it passes through the wrist. Surrounded by bones and tendons, the carpal tunnel can become constricted due to nearby swelling or inflammation, thereby squeezing the median nerve. In addition to wrist pain, carpal tunnel syndrome can cause numbness, weakness, and tingling sensations in the hand.
DeQuervain’s tenosynovitis occurs when the two wrist tendons at the base of the thumb become irritated and swollen, usually due to overuse. The swelling can cause the tendon coverings (sheaths) to become inflamed, which in turn can place pressure on nearby nerves. Usually, the resulting pain is felt on the thumb side of the wrist, worsens with thumb and wrist movement, and may be accompanied by swelling at the base of the thumb.
A fluid-filled lump that forms under the skin, a ganglion cyst of the wrist can occur if the sleeve of thin tissue that covers the wrist joint or a wrist tendon becomes irritated. As a result, the tissue may bulge and form a sac, and joint fluid may leak into the sac and cause swelling. If a ganglion cyst presses on a nerve, it can also cause wrist pain, numbness, muscle weakness, and tingling sensations.
If you’re interested in discussing your wrist pain with a hand and wrist specialist, you are welcome to consult with Peter D. Vizzi, MD. As a board-certified orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Vizzi helps many people overcome painful wrist injuries. Contact Dr. Vizzi’s office in Lafayette, Louisiana, to request an appointment.