Patient Information

What can cause hand pain?

What can cause hand pain? — Different conditions can cause hand pain, including:

  • Osteoarthritis – Arthritis is a general term that means inflammation of the joints. There are different types of arthritis. The most common type, called osteoarthritis, often comes with age. It can cause pain, stiffness, and swelling in the finger joints (picture 1).
  • Rheumatoid arthritis – Rheumatoid arthritis is another type of arthritis. It can also cause pain, stiffness, and swelling in the finger joints (picture 2). The stiffness is usually worst in the morning.
  • Trigger finger – This condition keeps a finger from straightening normally. When people try to straighten their trigger finger, the finger “locks” or “catches” in a bent position (picture 3). Trigger finger can also cause pain in the finger or palm. Trigger finger is caused by a problem with a tendon. Tendons are strong bands of tissue that connect muscles to bones.
  • Cysts – A cyst is an abnormal fluid-filled sac. If a cyst forms on or next to a tendon, it can cause a painful lump in the palm of the hand. Cysts can also form on joints (picture 4).
  • Dupuytren’s contracture – This condition causes the tissue under the skin on the palm to get thick. Over time, this makes the fingers (usually the ring and little fingers) stiff and keeps them from straightening all the way (picture 5).
  • Mallet finger – Mallet finger can happen when the finger joint nearest the fingernail gets hurt. People usually have pain and swelling on top of that joint. They can also have trouble straightening that joint all the way.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome – This condition affects a nerve that passes through the wrist to the hand. It usually causes pain, numbness, and tingling in the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and side of the ring finger. People can also have pain in their arm.
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Is there anything I can do on my own to feel better? — Yes. To ease your symptoms, you can:

  • Rest your hand – Don’t grip things too tightly or too often.
  • Put heat on the area to reduce pain and stiffness – Don’t use heat for more than 20 minutes at a time. Don’t use anything too hot that could burn your skin.
  • Do gentle exercises – Close your fingers to make a fist. Then straighten your fingers all the way.
  • Take medicine to reduce pain and swelling – To treat pain, you can take acetaminophen (brand name: Tylenol®). To treat pain and swelling, you can take ibuprofen (sample brand names: Advil®, Motrin®).

You can also protect your hands from getting hurt by:

  • Wearing thick leather gloves when you do work that could hurt your hands
  • Not letting your hands get too cold for too long

Should I see a doctor or nurse? — You should see a doctor or nurse if:

  • Your symptoms don’t get better or get worse after you treat them on your own for a few days.
  • Your hand is weak.
  • You can’t make a fist or straighten your fingers all the way.
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Will I need tests? — Maybe. Your doctor or nurse will ask about your symptoms and do an exam. He or she will examine your hand and fingers carefully and see how they move and work.

Your doctor or nurse might do 1 or more of the following tests:

  • An X-ray of your hand
  • Blood tests
  • A procedure to make sure the diagnosis is correct – For example, if the doctor thinks that you have a cyst, he or she might drain the fluid with a needle.

How is hand pain treated? — Treatment depends on the cause of the hand pain. After your doctor knows what condition is causing your hand pain, he or she will discuss your treatment options.