9 Causes Of Wrist And Hand Pain And How To Treat Them

Research suggests that wrist pain and hand pain impact about 10% of the population. It’s highly prevalent in people who perform physically demanding, repetitive activities daily, like manual labourers and sportspeople. It’s less common for office workers, but a life of scrolling, typing and sitting means that it’s becoming more common.

Finding that you can’t perform normal day-to-day activities without wrist pain or hand pain is as annoying as it gets. It can impact your work, family life and hobbies. So, what might be causing your pain? Sometimes we might have an inkling of what’s behind our pain, and other times, it crops up for reasons that seem like a complete mystery. 

Understanding the root cause of your wrist pain and hand pain is the first step to creating an effective treatment plan that works – one that won’t see your symptoms returning again and again.  At Featherston Pain Clinic, we’ve treated hundreds of hand and wrist pain cases and have a solid understanding of the common root causes. To give you some insight into what might be causing your hand and wrist pain, we’ve compiled a list of common causes, with some insight into how to treat them.

Woman lifting weights
1. Repetitive Strain

Our hands and wrists are always busy, so it makes sense that some of the hardest working parts of the body are the most prone to injury from being overused. Research suggests that repetitive stress is the leading cause of hand pain and wrist pain. 

Put simply, repetitive stress injuries happen when our body can’t keep up with all the damage caused by high levels of activity. To grasp this, you need to understand that your body is constantly repairing itself. If it were to go head-to-head in a competition with a machine, it would most definitely lose, simply because it needs to repair itself, whereas a machine doesn’t. 

We see two common types of overuse injuries frequently at the clinic – overuse injuries due to work and overuse injuries due to overtraining. Repetitive work tasks, tasks requiring strength, and tasks that place our wrists and hands in awkward angles can all lead to pain. The same goes for overtraining. You might be incredibly strong and have perfect lifting technique, but if you do the same intense lifting every day for three years, you’ll exceed your body’s ability to carry out repair processes.

1. Repetitive Strain

Our hands and wrists are always busy, so it makes sense that some of the hardest working parts of the body are the most prone to injury from being overused. Research suggests that repetitive stress is the leading cause of hand pain and wrist pain. 

Put simply, repetitive stress injuries happen when our body can’t keep up with all the damage caused by high levels of activity. To fully understand this, you need to understand that your body is constantly repairing itself. If it were to go head-to-head in a competition with a machine, it would most definitely lose, simply because it needs to repair itself, whereas a machine doesn’t. 

We see two common types of overuse injuries frequently at the clinic – overuse injuries due to work and overuse injuries due to overtraining. Repetitive work tasks, tasks requiring strength, and tasks that place our wrists and hands in awkward angles can all lead to pain. The same goes for overtraining. You might be incredibly strong and have perfect lifting technique, but if you do the same intense lifting every day for three years, you’ll exceed your body’s ability to carry out repair processes.

Person on their phone
2. Inflexibility

On the other side of the coin, our hands and wrists are busy, in fact they’re not actually doing as much as they used to. 

We were designed to roam vast fields, hunt prey, and construct shelters out of branches or leaves – not typing emails, scrolling news-feeds and reaching for the remote control.

Our modern-day activities limit our tendons and muscles to a minimal range of motion. Scrolling your newsfeed requires a great deal of repetition, but it doesn’t strengthen or mobilise your tissues in any meaningful way. 

If our soft tissues don’t get the varied work they need to stay strong and elastic, they’re simply more prone to being strained from overuse (already you might be thinking that your hand and wrist pain is multifaceted!). As you’ve likely guessed, this can predispose you to develop hand pain and wrist pain.

2. Inflexibility

On the other side of the coin, however, although our hands and wrists are busy, they’re not actually doing as much as they used to. 

We were designed to roam vast fields, hunt prey, and construct shelters out of branches or leaves – not typing emails, scrolling news-feeds and reaching for the remote control.

Our modern-day activities limit our tendons and muscles to a minimal range of motion. Scrolling your newsfeed requires a great deal of repetition, but it doesn’t strengthen or mobilise your tissues in any meaningful way. 

If our soft tissues don’t get the varied work they need to stay strong and elastic, they’re simply more prone to being strained from overuse (already you might be thinking that your hand and wrist pain is multifaceted!). As you’ve likely guessed, this can predispose you to develop hand pain and wrist pain.

3. Postural Tension

A wise woman once said, “it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it” – and she was right! Funnily enough, this also makes a great analogy for explaining hand and wrist pain.

How we do a task matters. When you perform a task in a smooth, relaxed and efficient way, it puts far less stress on the body than if you do it in a way that’s tense and awkward. How you grapes a steering wheel, a barbell, or even your pen can all contribute to your hand pain and wrist pain. These habits don’t seem bad in isolation, but hand and wrist pain can come knocking if you do them for days, months, and even years.

If you suffer from wrist and hand pain, adjusting how you do something can improve your pain immensely. Happily, any pain clinician who knows their stuff should be able to tell you just what you need to do to eliminate your pain.

4. Scar Tissue

Scar tissue is a major cause of wrist pain and hand pain. Either significant injury or repetitive strain usually causes it.

Significant injuries can leave deep tracts of scar tissue behind. Sometimes, old scar tissues are a vital factor in wrist and hand pain because they disrupt the function of your joints or muscles. It’s not a cause of the problem per se, but a factor of it nonetheless. The role that old injuries play in wrist pain and hand pain can be complex. For example, old shoulder injuries can easily contribute to pain in the wrist and hand. 

By now, you’ll be familiar with the idea that repetitive strain from daily activities plays out over weeks, years and even decades. If we dive into how this actually leads to pain even further, scar tissue is a large component. Repetitive strain can lead to scar tissue forming within the areas of maximum tissue stress since your body is constantly trying to repair the situation.

5. Surgery

Surgery is great; we’re truly blessed to live in an age of modern surgical procedures and technologies, which can save lives or relieve the pain we feel every day from nasties, such as nerve compression.

As wonderful as surgery is, it’s inevitably very invasive for our body – you are being cut open after all! And like all injuries, surgery can leave long term issues that may predispose us to pain, which in some cases can become chronic. 

Many of us are not given sufficient rehab after surgery due to the pressure on our healthcare systems. Hospitals need to discharge patients in a timely fashion, which can stunt your recovery process. 

As we mentioned above, scar tissue is a significant component of hand and wrist pain. If you’ve had arm surgery in the past and are dealing with persistent wrist or hand pain, there may be some residual scar tissue because you haven’t had the rehab you need to recover from surgery.

Luckily, wrist pain and hand pain related to poor surgical recovery are easily treatable as long as you’re willing to put in the necessary work.

6. Muscle Wasting

Muscle weakness is almost certainly part of the issue if you have chronic pain of any kind, including in your hands and wrists. Strong body parts seldom hurt, no matter what other complex factors are involved.

It’s no secret that we’re far less active than we used to be, and this means that our bodies are incredibly prone to muscle wasting. Our sedentary lifestyle patterns are causing specific muscle wasting compared to a few hundred years ago.

Movement makes muscle – or at least helps it from wasting away. The role muscles play in injury prevention is, however,  just as important as their role in maintaining movement.

If there is a threat of injury, muscles assume their role as protective armour. They prevent our joints from reaching extreme ranges of motion and protect soft tissues.

Strong, healthy muscles play a major role in preventing wrist pain and hand pain, in much the same way as they prevent traumatic injuries. The likelihood of developing hand pain is influenced by the amount of work you do – it is also influenced by how strong your hand is.

7. Tendinopathy

Tendinopathy is an integral part of almost all persistent wrist and hand pain and is an inseparable part of the underlying problem. It is valuable to understand what tendinopathy is and what we can do about it.

Tendinopathy used to be called tendonitis, but it turns out tendonitis is an unscientific term that doesn’t accurately capture what happens to painful tendons. 

More recent research has revealed that when you look down the microscope at chronically painful tendons, you see that they’ve degenerated – similar to what you’d see in bones with osteoarthritis. So, put simply, tendinopathy is your tendons degenerating from wear and tear. 

Fortunately, unlike bones, tendons have a rich blood supply. This is crucial because it means that if you’re able to get everything moving again as it should, you can rejuvenate the tendons and reduce the pain associated with it.

Fascia Diagram
8. Fascial Adhesions

Have you ever eaten a lamb roast? If you have, we’re going to assume two things. First, you’re likely not vegan, and secondly, you’ve probably seen the silvery membrane of a lamb shoulder. That’s fascia. It’s a thin, tough layer of white fibrous tissue that wraps all the internal organs. 

Fascia used to be thought of as boring connective tissues, but recently we’ve begun to understand it as an organ system in itself.

Put simply, fascia is important stuff. It’s the tissue holding everything together in your body. It helps us move our muscles and bones smoothly so that they can work for you more effectively. 

However, anything that causes physical strain, such as repetitive movements, surgery, and an inactive lifestyle, can lead to fascial adhesions. This is when your fascia becomes catchy and crinkled up. When it dries up and tightens around muscles, it can limit mobility and cause painful knots to develop. If you have had limited success with exercise and braces, it’s likely that you have fascial adhesions that need to be broken up, along with residual scar tissue. 

8. Fascial Adhesions

Have you ever eaten a lamb roast? If you have, we’re going to assume two things. First, you’re likely not vegan, and secondly, you’ve probably seen the silvery membrane of a lamb shoulder. That’s fascia. It’s a thin, tough layer of white fibrous tissue that wraps all the internal organs. 

Fascia used to be thought of as boring connective tissues, but recently we’ve begun to understand it as an organ system in itself.

Put simply, fascia is important stuff. It’s the tissue holding everything together in your body. It helps us move our muscles and bones smoothly so that they can work for you more effectively. 

However, anything that causes physical strain, such as repetitive movements, surgery, and an inactive lifestyle, can lead to fascial adhesions. This is when your fascia becomes catchy and crinkled up. When it dries up and tightens around muscles, it can limit mobility and cause painful knots to develop. If you have had limited success with exercise and braces, it’s likely that you have fascial adhesions that need to be broken up, along with residual scar tissue. 

9. Psychological Stress

Yes, you read that right. Stress might be a key factor in your wrist pain and hand pain. Increasingly science is unpacking the profound effects our emotions have on health issues, and stress can influence pain in a big way.

Our modern understanding of “pain” hinges on one relatively simple concept: wherever you feel stubborn aches, they’re happening both within the body’s tissue and deep inside our central nervous systems’ pathway for processing them.

The pain pathway handles everything from incoming messages to various types of sensations received through neurotransmitters like serotonin or dopamine, impacting how we experience emotions.

Put another way, pain happens in the brain. Some people can have damaged tissue and never feel something, while others can’t live a day without intense pain. There’s no hard and fast rule for who does or doesn’t feel pain in any given situation, but we do know that pain can be amplified from psychological stress from sources like family issues and work problems.

A study that illustrates this fantastically is one carried out by Boeing. In the study, Boeing teamed up with researchers to identify risk factors for reporting acute back pain at work. 3,020 aircraft employees took part in the study, so this wasn’t a small sample! The researchers found heavy lifting or repetitive work didn’t predict back pain as well as one other factor – feeling underappreciated. That’s right, the workers who experienced the worst back pain were the ones who felt chronically under-appreciated. That is, experiencing negative emotions day-to-day is linked to pain. 

So, how are you feeling, really? It could be that you’re not stressed – it’s still extremely normal to feel pain without stress in our lives. But, if you are stressed, it’s worth acknowledging that this can impact pain perception.

How Do I Treat Hand Pain And Wrist Pain?

If you’re reading this blog, you likely want to know the cause of your hand pain and wrist pain so you can treat it. 

Maybe your pain has been with you for a while. You might have even tried several treatments and found no one seems to be able to help. We get it! Often people with hand pain and wrist pain come to us just wanting one thing – a pain-free day. Which, we’re happy to say we’ve been able to give them after a bunch of hard work.

Successful management and relief of stubborn wrist and hand pain can be surprisingly straightforward. Yet, in other instances, a systematic, focused, and persistent approach may be required to get your pain under control. 

We specialise in providing flexible ‘multidisciplinary’ pain relief – using a wide range of tools and techniques. This ensures we have the best possible chance to help everyone: from the easiest straightforward cases right through to the most treatment-resistant forms of wrist and hand pain.

However, as wrist pain and hand pain primarily arise from overuse/injury causing scar tissue and fascial adhesions, there are a few common techniques we like to employ:

Shockwave therapy uses soundwaves to break down the scar tissue from overuse injuries. Read more about it here.

Graston Technique is like a form of specialised massage that utilises ‘scraping’ tools to release the connective tissues and get the blood flowing to your tendons again.

Getting your hands and wrists strong again is an essential part of managing wrist and hand pain. But need to be done alongside other treatments to help deal with scar tissue and fascial adhesions.

If stress is likely a contributing cause to your pain, they’ll be factors outside of the treatment we provide directly that will need to be addressed by you. However, what you can count on is that we’ll constantly assess and treat your pain in a holistic fashion, taking into account how stress might be impacting your pain.

The Take Home

Wrist and hand pain can be a major inconvenience, but there are many ways to treat it. If you’re currently experiencing this problem, we can certainly help.  

We have a wide range of technologies, including shockwave therapy, laser therapy, Graston and trigger point release. Which, as you now know, are scientifically backed to help improve hand and wrist pain.

Contact our team today to book in for an initial consultation if you think you might be suffering from wrist and hand pain so we can get started to help you live a pain-free day.

The Take Home

Wrist and hand pain can be a major inconvenience, but there are many ways to treat it. If you’re currently experiencing this problem, we can certainly help.  

We have a wide range of technologies, including shockwave therapy, laser therapy, Graston and trigger point release. Which, as you now know, are scientifically backed to help improve hand and wrist pain.

Contact our team today to book in for an initial consultation if you think you might be suffering from wrist and hand pain so we can get started to help you live a pain-free day.

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