Pain in the wrist and forearm is a common complaint in general medical practice. Yet there can be numerous causes for pain in these areas. Some pain may be produced by a relatively mild or temporary condition such as a minor sprain. Pain also can be the result of more serious conditions like fractures and carpal tunnel syndrome. A proper diagnosis of the pain is the first step toward an appropriate therapy.
A sprain occurs when one or more ligaments in the wrist are overstretched. Sprains are extremely common, especially in athletically active people. Pain produced by wrist sprains usually is localized to the wrist area. The pain is amplified when the wrist joint moves. Wrist sprains usually respond well to rest and joint immobilization.
Fractures, or breaks, in the bones of the arm or wrist are common injuries. Fractures can range from simple fractures that may heal spontaneously to compound fractures involving damage to adjacent tissues. Yet even with a small simple fracture, the pain and swelling can be considerable. X-rays are needed to confirm a fracture so that proper treatment can be administered.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common disorder involving compression of the median nerve inside the wrist. Its cause is unknown but the result can be severe pain. Usually this pain is distributed to the thumb and other fingers but not the little finger. The pain is often accompanied by numbness or tingling. Left untreated, carpal tunnel syndrome can progress and become extremely debilitating.
Tendonitis occurs when a tendon or its sheath inside the forearm or in the wrist becomes inflamed. This generally occurs as a result of repetitively straining of the hand, such as from playing tennis, typing and in factory production line work. The inflammation can cause severe pain from the hand all the way up to the elbow. Tendonitis usually responds well to resting the joint.
Arthritis is another very common condition that may cause pain in the wrist and lower forearm. Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common type in that area and occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues in the wrist. The wrist area usually becomes swollen and tender, and the pain may be constant or intermittent. There a number of treatments for arthritis.
Ganglion cysts that occur in the wrist are caused by leakage from the fluid-filled tissues in between the wrist joints or from the tendon sheaths in that area. These cysts are benign and do not spread although they may become larger. They can cause pain on and directly around the cyst, and can cause pain when the wrist joint moves. Sometimes they resolve on their own but often must be aspirated or surgically removed.
Seek medical attention if you experience unexplained wrist or forearm pain, or are unable to move your wrist or forearm after injury.
- “American Family Physician”; A Clinical Approach to Diagnosing Wrist Pain; T. Foreman, et.al.; November 2005
- Hand Clinics: Common Myths and Evidence in the Management of Distal Radius Fractures
- FamilyDoctor.org Hand/Wrist/Arm Problems
- Arthritis: Osteoarthritis of the Wrist STT Joint and Radiocarpal Joint