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Severe Wrist Pain

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Last updated March 15, 2021

Severe wrist pain questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out what's causing your pain.

Understand severe wrist pain symptoms, including 8 causes & common questions.

Severe wrist pain questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out what's causing your pain.

Severe wrist pain symptom checker

Severe wrist pain symptoms

The wrists are prone to injury, such as trying to catch yourself when falling. Many other types of medical conditions and injuries can affect the wrist, and some can cause severe wrist pain. Multiple structures including bones, tendons, and nerves can be implicated in severe wrist pain.

Common accompanying symptoms of severe wrist pain

If you're experiencing severe wrist pain, you may also experience:

Severe wrist pain causes

The following details may help you better understand your symptoms. However, any severe pain should be evaluated by a physician for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Acute injuries

An injury to the wrist can result in severe pain. This most commonly occurs when a large force is applied to the wrist with the arm outstretched, such as during a fall or car accident. One or more of the bones that make up the wrist can be fractured or dislocated, causing severe pain and swelling.

Chronic injuries

An injury is chronic if it is acquired over time, such as the following.

  • Tendon injury: Repetitive motion can cause an overuse injury to major tendons, resulting in severe pain on the thumb side of the wrist.
  • Nerve compression: Occupational activities or swelling due to underlying medical conditions can cause nerve compression and severe pain. You may also experience tingling in the hands and fingers.
  • Bone damage: Rarely, wrist pain can be due to progressive damage and destruction of one of the wrist bones. This is thought to occur due to decreased blood supply associated with repetitive manual labor.

Arthritis-related causes

Arthritis is characterized by inflammation and/or damage to joints caused by repetitive motions. Any type of arthritis can cause severe wrist pain.

  • Crystal arthritis: The wrist can be affected by forms of arthritis caused by the buildup of abnormal crystals in the joint, such as gout. An attack of gout will cause the wrist to be swollen, warm, and extremely painful.
  • Other types of arthritis: Arthritis may be inflammatory or result from joint damage over time (degenerative) in older people. Stiffness and swelling may also be present.

Infectious causes

A bacterial infection of the wrist joint is a serious condition and will cause severe pain that is worse with movement, swelling, and warmth. Risk factors for the development of a wrist infection include pre-existing joint abnormalities, such as arthritis, or a skin infection in the area of the wrist.

This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition of numbness and tingling in the hand and arm caused by compression of the mediannerve as it travels through the carpal tunnel. Causes include overuse of the wrist and hand, especially highly repetitive activities such as typing or wo...

Severe wrist pain questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out what's causing your pain.

Severe wrist pain symptom checker

Wrist sprain

Wrist sprain is often associated with traumatic events such as falls or sporting accidents. However, wrist sprain can also stem from chronic issues such as repetitive stress and the normal aging process. The wrists are so necessary and used so frequently that sometimes it may be difficult to differe...

Contusion of the wrist

A bruise is the damage of the blood vessels that return blood to the heart (the capillaries and veins), which causes pooling of the blood. This explains the blue/purple color of most bruises. Bruises of the wrist are common, often due to minor injuries.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: wrist injury, pain in one wrist, wrist pain from an injury, swelling of one wrist, wrist bruise

Symptoms that always occur with contusion of the wrist: wrist injury

Urgency: Self-treatment

De quervain's tenosynovitis

De Quervain's tenosynovitis is a painful condition affecting the tendons on the thumb side of the wrist. If you have de Quervain's tenosynovitis, you will feel pain upon turning your wrist, grasping anything, or making a fist.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: hand numbness, thumb pain, hand weakness, weakness in one hand, numbness in one hand

Symptoms that always occur with de quervain's tenosynovitis:thumb pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Rheumatoid arthritis

Arthritis is a general term for multiple conditions that cause painful inflammation and stiffness throughout the body. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic condition that is autoimmune in nature, meaning that the body's immune system which normally protects the body by att...

Buckle fracture of distal radius

A buckle fracture of the wrist, also known as a torus fracture, is a condition that are most common in children aged 5-10 years due to the elasticity of their bones. This fracture occurs when force is applied to the radius (one of the two bones of the forearm), causing the bone to split along the growth plate.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: constant forearm pain, forearm pain from an injury, pain in one forearm, swollen forearm, wrist injury

Symptoms that always occur with buckle fracture of distal radius:forearm pain from an injury, constant forearm pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Kienbock disease

Kienbock Disease is a condition where the blood going to one of the small bones in the wrist is disrupted, causing the bone to die and the wrist to become stiff and painful. The cause is not known but may be related to trauma to the wrist.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: hand weakness, pain in the back of the wrist, wrist pain from an injury, wrist pain that gets worse when gripping something, difficulty moving the wrist

Symptoms that always occur with kienbock disease: wrist pain from an injury, pain in the back of the wrist

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Psoriatic arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is a condition which causes inflammation of the joints. In most circumstances, psoriatic arthritis presents between the ages of 30 and 50 years and occurs after the manifestation of the symptoms of psoriasis, which is a disease of the skin. Psoriatic arthritis...

Severe wrist pain treatments and relief

When it is an emergency

Seek emergency severe wrist pain treatment if:

  • You have any of the following symptoms after an acute injury:significant swelling; tenderness to pressure at one specific spot; tingling or weakness in your fingers; or an abnormal angle of the wrist.
  • You have the following symptoms and a fever: You have rapid-onset severe wrist pain, swelling, and warmth, and/or had a recent injury that broke the skin over the wrist.

In some cases, even though emergency care isn't necessary, you may need evaluation and treatment.

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your medical provider if:

  • Your wrist pain is preventing you from carrying out your usual daily activities
  • Your sleep is affected: You are waking up at night due to pain.
  • Your wrist pain does not resolve over time or gets progressively worse
  • You have additional symptoms: Such as swelling and stiffness
  • You have tingling pain in your fingers

Medical treatments

Your medical provider may prescribe one or more of the following treatments, depending on the cause of your severe wrist pain:

  • Steroid injections: To help with pain and inflammation
  • Medication for arthritis: To slow the progression of inflammatory forms of arthritis
  • Medications to treat a current attack of gout: And prevent future attacks
  • Application of a splint to immobilize the wrist
  • Referral for surgical management: If other treatments are not effective

At-home treatments

Some home treatments may help with severe wrist pain.

  • Ice packs: Applying an ice pack for up to 15 minutes a few times a day can help ease pain and swelling due to arthritis or an injury.
  • Pain medication: NSAIDs such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help with the pain.
  • Move the wrist: Gently move the wrist from time to time in all directions to maintain range of motion.
  • Avoiding shellfish, red meat, and alcohol: This can help prevent attacks of gout in those predisposed to this illness.

Severe wrist pain questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out what's causing your pain.

Severe wrist pain symptom checker

FAQs about severe wrist pain

Here are some frequently asked questions about severe wrist pain.

Why is my wrist swollen and painful?

A variety of conditions can cause wrist swelling and severe pain, such as if you recently fell onto your hand. If the swelling and pain are more chronic, arthritis or an overuse injury could be the cause. Sudden pain and swelling without a preceding injury could be caused by gout or an infection in the joint.

Why do I have tingling pain in my wrist and fingers?

A tingling, painful sensation in the wrist and fingers is likely due to compression of a nerve. In carpal tunnel syndrome, the median nerve is compressed as it passes through the wrist. Carpal tunnel syndrome typically causes pain and tingling in the wrist, thumb, first two fingers, and the half of the ring finger closest to the thumb. The pain is often particularly noticeable at night.

Can severe wrist pain be due to arthritis?

Yes, arthritis can occur in the wrist and can cause severe pain along with stiffness and swelling. The wrist can be affected by rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or osteoarthritis, common in older people caused by wear-and-tear. An injury to the wrist earlier in life causes a predisposition to the development of osteoarthritis. In addition, wrist pain can result from arthritis caused by abnormal crystals in the joint, such as gout or pseudogout.

Can falling on the hand result in a wrist injury?

Falling on the hand with the arm stretched out is a common cause of injuries in the wrist. Severe wrist pain can result from a fracture of one or more of the arm and hand bones that meet to create the wrist joint. A fall onto the hand can also result in a dislocation of the wrist, where the bones are displaced from their normal positions. A fracture or dislocation will cause pain, swelling, and difficulty moving the wrist.

Why do I have severe pain in only one wrist?

Many causes of severe wrist pain will be present on only one side. Arthritis may affect just one wrist. This is particularly likely for gout or pseudogout, in which attacks typically occur in one joint at a time. An injury or infection may occur in only one of the wrists. Depending on how you use your wrists, one is likely more vulnerable to overuse injuries than the other.

Questions your doctor may ask about severe wrist pain

  • Push the backs of your hands together like in this picture, and hold for 1 minute. Do you notice any numbness, tingling, or pain in either of your fingers/hands? (This is called the Phalen's maneuver.)
  • Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • Lightly tap on your inner wrist. Does this cause your symptoms to reappear?
  • Is your wrist pain worse when holding something?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

Share your story
Dr. Rothschild has been a faculty member at Brigham and Women’s Hospital where he is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He currently practices as a hospitalist at Newton Wellesley Hospital. In 1978, Dr. Rothschild received his MD at the Medical College of Wisconsin and trained in internal medicine followed by a fellowship in critical care medicine. He also received an MP...
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