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Your hands are a vital part of living your everyday life. It can be easy to forget how much you use your hands until an injury or medical condition makes it difficult to accomplish daily tasks.
Your hand and wrist have 27 bones along with muscles, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. With so many parts, the hand is a common place for frustrating and disruptive pain and problems.
Common Hand Problems and Conditions
A range of conditions and injuries affect the hands, and some are more common than others. If you experience discomfort in your hands, your physician may check for these conditions first.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome: Carpal tunnel syndrome happens when a major nerve on the palm side of your hand—the median nerve—gets compressed, causing weakness, numbness, or tingling in the hand.
- De Quervain’s disease: De Quervain’s tenosynovitis, or De Quervain’s disease, causes pain in the thumb, especially when turning the wrist. The pain is due to tendons swelling in the wrist (on the thumb side).
- Dupuytren’s disease: Also called Dupuytren’s contracture, Dupuytren’s disease is a deformity of the hand that pulls the fingers into a permanently bent position. The deformity is caused by knots of tissue that form in the hand, typically forming over many years.
- Ganglion cysts: Ganglion cysts are lumps in the hands or wrists that are generally harmless, but are sometimes painful. The cysts are typically found in the tendons or joints and can grow to about an inch in size.
- Flexor tendon injuries: The flexor tendons allow our hands and fingers to move. When the muscles in the hand contract, the flexor tendons trigger movement by pulling on the bone. When these tendons are injured, most commonly by a deep cut, the fingers may no longer be able to bend. Conditions such as arthritis make the flexor tendon more likely to tear. Certain sports, like football, also cause flexor tendon injuries, commonly referred to as jersey finger (where one player grabs the jersey of another). The finger gets caught, pulling the tendon off the bone.
- Trigger finger: Stenosing tenosynovitis, more commonly known as trigger finger, is a condition where the finger “snaps” or “catches” when straightened. In more severe cases, the finger may not straighten at all. The condition is usually painful and may cause a lump to form at the base of the finger.
Causes and Risk Factors of Hand Problems
Every hand condition is unique and may have different causes or risk factors. Some activities, medical conditions, and traits can lead to several kinds of hand conditions.
Common causes of hand problems include the following:
- Injury: Cuts, fractures, and dislocations can lead to more severe hand injuries later in life.
- Medical conditions: Diabetes and several types of arthritis can cause De Quervain’s disease, ganglion cysts, and trigger finger.
- Overuse: The tendons in your hands and wrists can wear down over time, especially when repeating the same motion. Overuse can contribute to conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, De Quervain’s disease, ganglion cysts, and trigger finger.
Risk factors include the following:
- Age: Many of these conditions are more common and develop in older populations. However, injuries can happen at any age.
- Gender: Trigger finger is more common in women, and conditions like Dupuytren’s disease seem to be more common in men.
- Occupation and hobbies: Your job and your hobbies could put you at risk for injury and overuse. Flexor tendon injuries are common in sports that require hand strength, like rock climbing, and overuse may affect cashiers, cyclists, or musicians, leading to carpal tunnel.
- Pregnancy: Hormonal changes during pregnancy can cause inflammation, which can lead to certain hand conditions.
Symptoms of Hand Problems
Symptoms that may indicate a hand problem include the following:
- Difficulty or loss of movement in the fingers, hands, wrists, or arms
- Lumps in the hands
- Numbness or tingling
- Weakness or difficulty with routine tasks
If you experience one or more of these symptoms, talk to your doctor.
Diagnosing Hand Problems
Diagnosing hand conditions is relatively straightforward. Your physician may use one or more tests to make a diagnosis, including the following:
- Imaging: Ultrasound, X-ray, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans give your physician a better look inside the hand.
- Medical and family history: Some hand conditions are hereditary or caused by other medical conditions. Your doctor will want to get a full picture of your medical history.
- Physical exam: Your physician will look at your hands and fingers and may also ask you to put them in certain positions to assess your pain and ability to move them.
Treatments for Hand Problems
There are several therapies offered for various hand conditions, and you will decide with your doctor which is best for you.
Your physician may try one of these treatments first:
- Exercises: Your doctor may recommend stretches to help your condition, or you may be directed to orthopedic therapy to strengthen your muscles and reduce pain.
- Injections: Steroid injections, like cortisone, help reduce inflammation and may allow those with conditions like trigger finger to avoid surgery.
- Medication: You may be advised to take over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or naproxen to reduce pain and swelling.
- Splint: Conditions like carpal tunnel and trigger finger may improve with the help of a splint, which helps the tendon rest.
Some hand conditions are most often treated with surgery to restore mobility. Your doctor will discuss with you which surgery is best for you. After surgery, you can work with our hand therapists during recovery.