Patient Education

Shoulder Hip


Causes of Wrist Pain

Common causes of wrist pain range from repetitive stress injuries to diseases such as arthritis. Damage to your ligaments, bones or the cartilage that cushions your joints can cause pain and affect your ability to use your wrist and hand.

Topics below cover two common areas of wrist problems.

Arthritic Wrist

Arthritis is a term that is defined as inflammation of the joint and used to describe over 100 different conditions that can affect the human body. Arthritis affects millions of Americans each year with symptoms including pain, stiffness, swelling, and loss of motion in affected joints.

There are two common types of arthritis that generally affect the wrist; osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.  

Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, results in the wearing out of the cartilage that protects the bones in the joints. Once cartilage is damaged or destroyed, cartilage cannot repair or replace itself like many other body tissues. Wrist cartilage can be compared to the tread of an automobile tire, very durable but susceptible to wear over time.  As we age, the tread surface slowly erodes until the underlying bone is exposed. This exposed bone can be painful when the joint moves and bears weight. 

Often the cause of arthritis is unknown, but may develop from years of wear and tear on the joint cartilage or as a result from injury to the forearm, wrist or ligaments. There is no known cure. The best that doctors can do for patients is to restore motion and reduce pain.

Common symptoms of osteoarthritis of the wrist

  • Severe wrist pain that limits everyday activity
  • Wrist pain at night causing sleeplessness
  • Limited range of motion
  • Decreased grip strength
  • Joint swelling

Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic inflammatory condition of the joint lining, or synovium where the body’s immunological system attacks healthy tissue, causing inflammation of the joint lining and subsequent joint damage. When rheumatoid arthritis is present, the cartilage is not being provided with enough lubrication and nourishment. This leads to loss of motion and pain in the wrist.

Wrist Injuries

Common types of wrist injuries include carpel tunnel syndrome and ligament sprains and tears. These injuries can occur from long-term overuse, such as repetitive lifting, pushing, pulling and throwing. For this reason, athletes and skilled workers are particularly prone to wrist injuries. 

Common types of wrist injuries include fractures, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and ligament sprains and tears. These conditions can cause wrist pain, swelling, and stiffness.

Fractures are common injuries to wrist bones because the bones in the wrist are small and intricately arranged.

Symptoms may include, swelling, discolored skin, limited ability to move your wrist, a deformed or crooked wrist, sometimes with the bone protruding through the skin.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a common wrist injury that may occur from repetitive motion. It is a condition where the median nerve is compressed as it passes through the carpal tunnel in the wrist.

Symptoms may include difficulty making a fist, difficulty gripping objects with the hand(s), pain and/or numbness in the hand(s), "pins and needles" feeling in the fingers, swollen feeling in the fingers, burning or tingling in the fingers, especially the thumb and the index and middle fingers.

Tendonitis is inflammation of the tendon or area surrounding the tendon. There are many tendons located around the wrist that connect the muscles to the joint. These tendons become stressed and overworked due to various activities or overuse injuries and cause pain and tenderness around the wrist region.

Symptoms include an inability move comfortably, pain while resting or sleeping at night, difficulty bending your wrist, and swelling.

Ligament Sprains and Tears result from injuries that happen when you fall forward onto your outstretched hand. They can also occur when you push a heavy object or brace yourself during a sudden stop or collision.

Symptoms may include significant pain and swelling that becomes worse with use, bruising, inability to use your wrist normally and painful popping or clicking.


All patient education materials are provided by and have been reviewed by our Advisory Board of leading Orthopedic Surgeons to ensure accuracy. All materials are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for medical advice from your orthopedic surgeon. Any medical decisions should be made after consulting a qualified physician.
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