Read below about severe wrist pain, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your severe wrist pain from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Severe Wrist Pain Symptoms

Many types of medical conditions and injuries can affect the wrist, and some can cause severe wrist pain. The wrists are prone to injury, for example the natural instinct to throw up the hands as a self-protective measure when falling. Multiple structures including bones, tendons, and nerves can be implicated in severe wrist pain [1].

Symptoms that can be associated with severe wrist pain include:

Severe Wrist Pain Causes Overview

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 [2].

Chronic injuries

  • Tendon injury : Repetitive motion can cause an overuse injury to major tendons that pass through the wrist, 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 that results in severe wrist pain. Tingling and weakness in the hand and fingers can also occur.
  • 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

Arthritis is characterized by inflammation and/or damage to joints caused by repetitive motions. Any type of arthritis can cause severe wrist pain [3].

  • Crystal arthritis : The wrist can be affected by forms of arthritis caused by 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 : Multiple other types of arthritis can cause severe wrist pain symptoms. The arthritis may be inflammatory or, in older people, can result from damage to the joint due to wear and tear over time (degenerative). In addition to pain, there may be stiffness and swelling.

Infection

A bacterial infection of the wrist joint can cause severe pain that worsens with movement, along with swelling and warmth and can lead to serious problems [4]. Risk factors for development of a wrist infection include pre-existing joint abnormalities, such as arthritis, or a skin infection in the area of the wrist.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Severe Wrist Pain

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced severe wrist pain. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

    The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway filled with ligament and bones at the base of your hand. It contains nerve and tendons. Sometimes, thickening from irritated tendons or other swelling narrows the tunnel and causes the nerve to be compressed. Symptoms usually start gradually, and as they worsen, grasping objects can become difficult.

    Recovery time varies depending on treatment.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    spontaneous shoulder pain, hand weakness, wrist pain, weakness in one hand, pain in both hands
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Wrist Sprain

    A wrist sprain is an injury to the ligaments in the wrist. A mild sprain involves just stretching of the ligaments while more severe sprains can tear the ligaments.

    2 weeks

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    wrist injury, wrist pain, wrist pain from an injury, swollen wrist, pain in the back of the wrist
    Symptoms that always occur with wrist sprain:
    wrist injury
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.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.

    Bruises tend to begin healing within one week.

    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
  4. 4.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.

    4-6 weeks with treatment

    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

    Severe Wrist Pain Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having severe wrist pain.

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  5. 5.Rheumatoid Arthritis

    Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a form of arthritis that causes pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function in your joints. It can affect any joint but is common in the wrist and fingers. RA is an autoimmune disorder, meaning that it is caused by the immune system incorrectly attacking the joints when it shouldn't.

    RA is a chronic disease which requires lifelong control.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, depressed mood, joint pain, muscle aches, daytime sleepiness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.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.

    3 weeks in a cast, no need for follow up.

    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
  7. 7.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.

    Life long, the wrist is damaged permanently

    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
  8. 8.Psoriatic Arthritis

    Psoriasis is a skin disease that causes itchy or sore patches of thick, red skin with silvery scales. Some people who have psoriasis also get a form of arthritis (inflammation and swelling of joints) called psoriatic arthritis.

    This type of arthritis can be managed with treatment, and permanent damage can be prevented. However, the underlying cause (psoriasis) is currently incurable.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    shoulder pain, lower back pain, joint pain, upper back pain, hip pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Severe Wrist Pain Treatments and Relief

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 rapid onset of severe wrist pain, swelling, and warmth, particularly if you also have a fever 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.

Make an appointment with your medical provider if:

  • Your wrist pain is preventing you from carrying out your usual daily activities.
  • 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 like swelling and stiffness.
  • You have tingling pain in your fingers.

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.
  • Medications 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.

Some home treatments may help with severe wrist pain.

  • 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.
  • NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help with pain.
  • Gently move the wrist in all directions to maintain range of motion.
  • Avoiding shellfish, red meat, and alcohol can help prevent attacks of gout in those predisposed to this illness.

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. If you recently fell onto your hand, there may be an injury such as a fracture. 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 the common condition 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 [5].

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 an inflammatory arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or by osteoarthritis, the wear-and-tear arthritis common in older people. 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 [6]. An injury or infection may occur in only one of the wrists. In addition, 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

  • Q.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.)
  • Q.Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • Q.Lightly tap on your inner wrist. Does this cause your symptoms to reappear?
  • Q.Is your wrist pain worse when holding something?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our severe wrist pain symptom checker to find out more.

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Severe Wrist Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced severe wrist pain have also experienced:

    • 5% Wrist Pain
    • 5% Wrist Stiffness
    • 4% Hand Tingling
  • People who have experienced severe wrist pain had symptoms persist for:

    • 32% Over a Month
    • 26% Less Than a Week
    • 21% Less Than a Day
  • People who have experienced severe wrist pain were most often matched with:

    • 50% Wrist Sprain
    • 37% Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
    • 12% Contusion of the Wrist
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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References

  1. Hand and Wrist Anatomy. Arthritis Foundation. Arthritis Foundation Link.
  2. Ulnar Sided Wrist Pain. American Society for Surgery of the Hand. Published 2015. ASSH Link.
  3. Jennings CD, Brubacher JW. Arthritis of the Wrist. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: OrthoInfo. Updated April 2016. OrthoInfo Link.
  4. Skeete K, Hess EP, Clark T, Moran S, Kakar S, Rizzo M. Epidemiology of Suspected Wrist Joint Infection Versus Inflammation. Journal of Hand Surgery. 2011;36(3):469-474. NCBI Link.
  5. Jennings CD, Faust K. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: OrthoInfo. Updated July 2016. OrthoInfo Link.
  6. Gout and Pseudogout. American Society for Surgery of the Hand. Published 2013. ASSH Link.