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Why hand or wrist pain isn’t something you should live with

January 03, 2019

Most people never think about how important their hands are until they start to experience pain or discomfort. Healthy hands are vital to any number of daily activities, including those requiring fine motor functions. Hand or wrist pain can significantly affect your quality of life.

Some hand conditions are common, such as various types of arthritis or tendinitis, but the one seen most often is carpal tunnel syndrome.

“There is some confusion about carpal tunnel. Sometimes, people presume they have it when the problem may actually be something else,” said Adam Dann, DO, hand, elbow, and shoulder surgeon with Kettering Health Network orthopedics. “It’s always best to get wrist pain checked out to be certain of what the condition is and what is causing it.”

Carpal tunnel syndrome causes numbness, tingling, and other symptoms in the hand and arm. The condition is the result of a compressed nerve in the carpal tunnel, a passageway on the palm side of the wrist. Symptoms come on gradually, increasing in severity over time when left untreated.

Because carpal tunnel is so common, it can lead to problems with fine motor skills. “When you have trouble with sensations in your fingers, you lose what’s called ‘probe reception,’” Dr. Dann explained. “Your hand should tell your brain how tightly you are holding onto something, but you end up dropping it.” This often is accompanied by sharp pain and ongoing numbness.

Other common problems

Not to be confused with carpal tunnel, cubital tunnel syndrome involves pressure or stretching of the ulnar (funny bone) nerve, resulting in tingling in the ring or small fingers and hand weakness.

Another condition, sometimes called “trigger finger,” occurs when the pulleys that help the tendons bend the fingers become too thick. Pain when grasping or twisting can be caused by a narrowing of the tunnel where the tendons of the hand run, called tenosynovitis.

Diagnosis and treatment

These issues are diagnosed by a thorough understanding of the patient’s history and a physical examination. Depending on the condition, there are several other tests that may need to be done, including X-rays, nerve conduction studies, and more.

After diagnosis, the doctor discusses treatment options. The severity of the problem is different for every patient, and each is treated case-by-case. In general, if there is nothing forcing an urgent surgery, the least-invasive treatment begins early.

Treatment is based on the type and severity of the condition. Kettering Health Network orthopedic physicians do their best to avoid the risks associated with surgery wherever possible.

“My general philosophy is to exhaust all non-surgical options first,” Dr. Dann said. “As a rule, simple solutions may be best, including medication, therapy, and activity modification. Then you work your way up to more complex treatments and surgery if that is warranted.”

Prevention involves maintaining regular activity. Good bone and joint health require regular movement and exercise. “The worst thing you can do is have a sedentary lifestyle,” Dr. Dann said. “Keep your hands moving and stay active.”

Many people who have wrist pain or other symptoms in the hand believe they simply have to live with it, but that’s not true. Even if all you do is talk with a physician about what is going on, it’s best to see a specialist and have the problem checked. 

Where to learn more

On Thursday, February 7, at 5:30 p.m., Kettering Health Network will host a “Hand: Top Ten Conditions” Health Night Out, featuring Dr. Dann, where he will focus on the 10 most common hand conditions that orthopedists treat. Click here to learn more and register for the Health Night Out.

To learn more about hand and wrist treatment options or to make an appointment with a physician, visit KetteringHealth.org/hand or call 844-228-6683.