Back of The Hand Swelling Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

While arthritis can cause inflammation and hand swelling, cellulitis and Dupuytren disease can also cause swelling in the back of the hand. Read below for more information on related symptoms, causes, and treatment options.

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. 9 Possible Back Of The Hand Swelling Conditions
  4. Treatments & Prevention
  5. Real-Life Stories
  6. FAQ
  7. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  8. Statistics
  9. Related Articles
  10. References

Back Of The Hand Swelling Symptoms

The hands are essential to everyday life. Experiencing swelling on the back of the hand can not only be unsightly but can also limit your participation in things you enjoy.

Swelling is the result of fluid buildup that gets trapped in your body’s tissues. Buildup can occur when there is obstruction and fluid cannot properly flow and/or drain. However, fluid buildup can also occur when an area of the body becomes inflamed, injured or damaged. The small blood vessels in the body begin to leak fluid. Moreover, the body can bring in white blood cells to repair the damage, and more fluid follows. Depending on the cause, the swelling can be generalized and occur throughout the body, or localized and only affect a specific part of the body, such as the back of the hand.

Common accompanying symptoms of back of the hand swelling

In addition to the swelling (edema) you may also experience symptoms that include:

  • Hand Pain
  • Fever
  • Warmth or redness of the affected area
  • Discoloration of the hand
  • Cramping or soreness
  • Feeling of heaviness or tightness
  • Stretched or shiny skin
  • Skin pitting: This is skin that dimples or dents after pressing on the affected area for a few seconds.
  • Stiffness or limited range of motion

Back Of The Hand Swelling Causes

Site-specific swelling of the hand, for instance on the back (or dorsal) surface of the hand can include a variety of diagnoses. Often these causes do not cause swelling of the entire hand and are very localized. The causes can involve any component of the hand such as the soft tissue, muscles, bones or tendons [1]. See this image here of the common causes of swellings found on the back of the hand or wrist.

Rheumatologic/Inflammatory causes

This category includes inflammatory conditions involving the body’s tissues and joints that can affect people of all ages but most commonly affects older adults. Conditions such as arthritis cause inflammation that easily brings fluid into the tissues leading to swelling, redness, and tenderness in the joints in addition to the appearance of large bumps or nodules in the fingers and hands. Other inflammatory conditions of the joints such as bursitis can also result in swollen lumps on the back of the hand. Inflammation of body components such as the tendons can also become inflamed due to non-arthritic causes and result in swelling.

Dermatologic causes

Dermatologic causes that can result in swelling at the back of the hand may include the following.

  • Cysts: Cysts are sacs that can be filled with fluid, air, or other material that can form in any part of the body. On the back of the hand, cysts are often related to the joints and tendons near the wrist. See this image here of a type of cyst called a ganglion that is commonly found on the back of the hand [1,2].
  • Other: There are many swellings on the back of the hand that may result after trauma in the skin and soft tissues [3]. For example, penetrating injuries such as scratches or cuts may result in overgrowth of repair tissues that result in a large and noticeable swelling or lump in the affected area. See an example of a type of this condition called a pyogenic granuloma here.

Cancerous causes

A swelling on the back of the hand may be concerning as it can be an initial sign of a cancerous process. However, there are signs and symptoms that are reassuring. If the swelling is soft and easily mobile that can be indicative of a different process. However, a swelling on the back of the hand that grows in size over time, changes color, or is hard, rigid or stuck in place should be followed up promptly. A cancerous swelling (also called a tumor or neoplasm) arises when cells divide and grow uncontrollably.

  • Benign: A cancerous growth is considered benign if it does not invade the local tissues are spread to other parts of the body. There are many benign tumors that involve the bones, muscles and soft tissues of the hand.
  • Malignant: A cancerous growth is considered malignant when the cells begin to invade other parts of the body. Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that often arises in the hand due to frequent exposure to the sun.

9 Possible Back Of The Hand Swelling Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced back of the hand swelling. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.


Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the deep layers of the skin. It can appear anywhere on the body but is most common on the feet, lower legs, and face.

The condition can develop if Staphylococcus bacteria enter broken skin through a cut, scrape, or existing skin infection such as impetigo or eczema.

Most susceptible are those with a weakened immune system, as from corticosteroids or chemotherapy, or with impaired circulation from diabetes or any vascular disease.

Symptoms arise somewhat gradually and include sore, reddened skin.

If not treated, the infection can become severe, form pus, and destroy the tissue around it. In rare cases, the infection can cause blood poisoning or meningitis.

Symptom of severe pain, fever, cold sweats, and fast heartbeat should be seen immediately by a medical provider.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination.

Treatment consists of antibiotics, keeping the wound clean, and sometimes surgery to remove any dead tissue. Cellulitis often recurs, so it is important to treat any underlying conditions and improve the immune system with rest and good nutrition.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: fever, chills, facial redness, swollen face, face pain

Symptoms that always occur with cellulitis: facial redness, area of skin redness

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...

Read more

Dupuytren disease

Dupuytren Disease, also known as Dupuytren's contracture, is a condition that gradually causes connective tissue (fascia) under the skin of the palm to thicken and become scar-like. Although Dupuytren's isn't painful, it does restrict movement. The thickened tissue forces several fingers - usually the ring and pinky fingers - to curl in toward the palm.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: finger joint stiffness, hand bump, thickened skin on the finger, swollen hands, hand injury

Urgency: Primary care doctor


Angioedema is a condition which can cause swelling and puffiness of the face, mouth, tongue, hand or genitals. It is often related to an allergic reaction to food, medicines or insect bites.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: nausea or vomiting, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), diarrhea, swollen face, hand swelling

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Back Of The Hand Swelling Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your back of the hand swelling

Bruised hand

A bruise occurs when small blood vessels break and leak their contents into the soft tissue beneath the skin, which causes the purple color of the bruise.

Rarity: Uncommon

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

Symptoms that always occur with bruised hand: hand injury, hand pain from an injury

Urgency: Self-treatment

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...

Read more

Frostnip of the upper limbs

Frostnip is damage of the outermost layers of the skin caused by exposure to the cold (at or below 32F or 0C). It is most commonly found in people doing leisurely activities like camping, hunting, or snow sports.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: hand numbness, hand pain, hand redness, cold hands, cold fingers

Symptoms that always occur with frostnip of the upper limbs: cold fingers

Urgency: In-person visit

Jammed finger

Jammed fingers are common in sports but may occur during daily activity.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: recent finger injury, finger pain from an injury, swollen finger, finger joint stiffness, finger bruise

Symptoms that always occur with jammed finger: recent finger injury, finger pain from an injury

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Motor-vehicle accident

After any motor-vehicle accident, it's hard to rule out subtle, but maybe dangerous, things that could have happened within the body. You should go see a doctor immediately.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: motor-vehicle accident, arm weakness

Urgency: Emergency medical service

Back Of The Hand Swelling Treatments and Relief

When to see a doctor

Management goals in the setting of hand swelling are to restore function and prevent infection and chronic disability [4]. Depending on the cause of your symptoms, your healthcare provider may suggest or prescribe the following treatment options:

  • Surgery: Surgery is often first-line therapy for removal and drainage of swellings on the back of the hand, especially those related to cancerous processes. If the swelling on the back of the hand is not causing significant pain or disability, your physician may take a “watchful waiting” approach before performing any surgical procedure.
  • Medications: There are several medications that your physician may consider to target swelling in your hand. For example, anti-inflammatory medications can help swelling caused by rheumatologic or infectious causes.

When it is an emergency

If the swelling on the back of your hand is due to a traumatic injury such as a fall or direct blow, make sure to seek medical attention promptly as you may have fractured or dislocated bones.

Real-life Stories

Once your story is reviewed and approved by our editors, it will live on Buoy as a helpful resource for anyone who may be dealing with something similar. If you want to learn more, try Buoy Assistant.

FAQs About Back Of The Hand Swelling

How long will the swelling on the back of my hand last?

The duration of the swelling on the back of your hand will be dependent on the cause. Often rheumatologic and cancerous processes are more chronic and can last for a long time whereas dermatologic causes are more acute. For example, ganglion cysts can often resolve on their own, but sometimes drainage or surgery to remove the cyst is necessary.

Why is there only swelling on the back of one hand?

Swelling of just one hand is normal in many non-systemic causes of swelling such as rheumatologic and traumatic causes. For example, infection or traumatic injury can often involve one hand or lymphatic drainage problems may be present on one side and not the other.

What is tenosynovitis?

Tenosynovitis is a medical term for the inflammation of a tendon. Tendons are strong, fibrous bands of tissue that connect muscles to bones. The tendon can become inflamed from a repetitive injury like typing and infection. The inflammation can result in pain and swelling of the wrist, hand, and fingers [1].

What does melanoma look like?

Many people have pigmented bumps or lesions on the skin, especially those with extensive exposure to the sun’s rays. However, these lesions become a cause for concern when you notice a lesion becoming asymmetrical in appearance, with irregular (not rounded or well-circumscribed) borders, varied color throughout, and a size greater than 6mm. If you notice any of these changes over time, seek medical attention promptly.

Can I pop/drain the swelling on the back of my hand at home?

Though you may be tempted to pop or drain the swelling on the back of your hand, it is not advisable to do so on your own. Seeking care from a medical professional is necessary as the proper, clean tools are required for drainage in order to prevent infection or worsening of the condition.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Back Of The Hand Swelling

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • Did you recently injure your hand or fingers?
  • Have you ever been diagnosed with cancer?
  • Do you have these contractures that limit the movement of your fingers? (See picture)

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Back Of The Hand Swelling Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your back of the hand swelling

Back Of The Hand Swelling Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced back of the hand swelling have also experienced:

  • 14% Hand Pain
  • 3% Pain In One Hand
  • 3% Finger Joint Stiffness

People who have experienced back of the hand swelling were most often matched with:

  • 40% Cellulitis
  • 30% Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • 30% Dupuytren Disease

People who have experienced back of the hand swelling had symptoms persist for:

  • 37% Less than a day
  • 35% Less than a week
  • 13% Over a month

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant (a.k.a. the quiz).

Back Of The Hand Swelling Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your back of the hand swelling


  1. Hasham S, Burke FD. Diagnosis and treatment of swellings in the hand. Postgrad Med J. 2007;83(979):296-300. NCBI Link
  2. Ganglion cysts. American Society for Surgery of the Hand. AASH Link
  3. Ravaglia FF, Leite MG, Bracellos TF, Cliquet A. Postambulatory hand swelling (big hand syndrome): Prevalence, demographics, and association with dog walking. ISRN Rheumatol. 2011;2011:659695. NCBI Link
  4. Miller LK, Jerosch-Herold C, Shepstone L. Effectiveness of edema management techniques for subacute hand edema: A systematic review. J Hand Ther. 2017;30(4):432-446. NCBI Link

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