Wrist Pain: What you need to know

Overview of wrist pain

Wrist pain is usually a result of an acute accident or injury like a fall; however, it is possible to result from more long term problems, such as carpal tunnel syndrome or repetitive stress injuries. The wrist plays a role in many everyday activities; from texting to driving. When wrist pain occurs, it can make even the simplest of daily tasks difficult.

Symptoms of wrist pain

Wrist pain can be described as a dull ache, or a sharp pain - depending on the underlying cause. Above and beyond pain, common wrist complaints are stiffness, numbness, tingling and weakness.

Pain can vary depending on the injury. You may be experiencing;

Common causes of wrist pain

Frequently, wrist pain occurs from a fall onto an outstretched hand (FOOSH). Other wrist injuries come from overuse or workplace repetitive strain injuries. The most common causes of wrist pain are:

The positive news is these injuries are not only manageable, but they are preventable. Your local physiotherapist can help advise you on the best course of action, following a thorough assessment of your wrist injury.

If you have suffered a severe wrist injury, due to a significant fall or accident, it is essential to seek medical advice immediately. Book an appointment with your local GP or head to the emergency department if it is severe. Following immediate medical care, you may require rehab and treatment from a physiotherapist.

Top 5 wrist injuries

There are many causes of wrist pain that we as physiotherapists deal with, here are the top 5 wrist injuries.

  1. Carpal tunnel syndrome

  2. Repetitive strain injury

  3. Wrist tendonitis

  4. Rheumatoid arthritis

  5. Ganglion cysts

Some of the sports and activities that lead to wrist injuries include;

Gym / Weightlifting

Whilst resistance training has many benefits, the nature of training means that there is a chance of injury. Lifting weights that are too heavy, overtraining or simply poor technique can be the cause of wrist injury.

Gymnastics

Gymnastics is a high-intensity sport with lots of tumble turns, flips and jumps. Gymnasts need incredibly strong wrists to withstand the forces that are applied to them in many manoeuvres. Unfortunately, a wrong landing or miscalculation can cause immense wrist pain and injury.

Cricket

Batting is an endurance sport which requires hours of concentration and focus. It also involves a lot of arm and wrist strength. Repetitive training and batting can be a source of wrist pain if not managed properly.

Tennis

The repetitive nature of tennis and the extreme force that is applied to the wrist when hitting the ball can cause wrist issues. Most frequently, poor technique and overtraining are to blame for most injuries.

Wrist pain treatment

Self-treatment

A lot of the time, there are a few things you can do to help relieve wrist pain at home. If you are at all concerned about the severity of your injury, seek medical advice.

Gentle exercises

Frequent movement of the wrist provides relief by increasing synovial joint fluid (the lubricant for all joints) as well as helping mobilise and inflammatory cytokines in the wrist. It will help reduce swelling and keep the joints limber and mobile. Particularly for the office worker reading this article, take a 2-minute break - and start doing circular movements with your wrist now!

Use heat and or cold

In states of inflammation and acute pain, ice will help relieve swelling. If the wrist pain is chronic, then heat packs may provide some temporary pain relief. The heat will help you reduce your symptoms, but not necessarily fix the underlying cause.

Avoid painful movements and exercises

This might seem like a no brainer on the surface; however, it is often overlooked. If spending 10 hours a day on your laptop is causing wrist pain, then you might need to address your work habits. You may not have the luxury of being able to stop completely, but giving yourself more regular breaks will assist in reducing the stress on your wrists.

Stretching

A bit like the advice around gentle exercises, stretching can help mobilise the muscles of the wrist, reduce inflammation and help ease the pain. Get some advice on the best stretches to do before you begin.

Pain medication

If all of the above still doesn't move the needle, then you may find yourself tempted to reach for the pain killers. Whilst they can be helpful, keep in mind that they just mask the symptoms and don't address the underlying cause. Speak to your GP or pharmacist before taking any medication.

Seeking medical care

In the case of severe injury, you must seek medical advice as soon as possible. Organise a time to see your GP or visit the emergency department if required.

Make an appointment with a physio if

In most cases, wrist injuries can be managed and treated by your local physiotherapist. You do not need a GP referral and can make an appointment directly with your closest clinic.

Wrist injuries can be quite disabling, making simple activities like using a computer, or opening a door handle feel like monumental tasks. The key to treating any wrist injury is a thorough assessment from your physiotherapist. They will look at underlying factors, behaviours and movements that may be contributing to your wrist pain.

If you have never seen a physiotherapist before, be aware that they will ask you questions about your day to day activity to understand better what may have led to your injury. This will help them determine the best course of action as we advance.

Treatment of wrist injuries will always focus on restoration of function - this means better movement with less pain. Your local physio will utilise a range of different treatment options to get the best outcome, including:

Your physiotherapist will use these tools and more to ensure a successful outcome, no matter the cause.

Frequently asked questions

How can I relieve wrist pain?

There are a few simple things you can do at home to fix your wrist pain.

  1. Stretch your wrists regularly before and after activities

  2. Take regular breaks from painful activities, e.g. typing.

  3. Ice them after activities that cause pain

  4. Avoid typically inflammatory foods such as processed sugars.

What does carpal tunnel feel like?

Carpal tunnel syndrome feels a lot like pins and needles. Patients experience a tingling sensation that can sometimes feel like numbness or even pain. It is usually concentrated to the thumb, index and middle finger but can sometimes affect the entire hand. Generally, once you are "warmed up" and moving the symptoms will improve, so naturally, people feel a lot more pain at night.

What does arthritis in the wrist feel like?

Mild arthritis will feel like a dull and naggin throbbing pain that is quite persistent. You may find that specific movements, such as turning a door handle or lifting a shopping bag can be difficult and sometimes even painful. As symptoms progress, you will find that flare-ups of arthritis will become more frequent and unfortunately, more and more activities will become painful If left untreated pain will become constant - even at rest.

Anatomy of the wrist

The wrist is one of the more complicated regions of the human body, consisting of many bones and joints - allowing for complex movements and fine motor control. You could argue that there is no one "wrist joint" as it is made up of the radius and ulnar, eight carpal bones as well as five radiocarpal bones.

The wrist is one of the defining features that separates humans from other primates.

The function of the wrist is to allow for bending back and forth, side to side movements as well as assisting the hand in fine motor skills.

There are four main joint compartments of the wrist:

  1. Distal radioulnar joint

This is located between the radius and ulna at the wrist, allowing for forearm rotation.

  1. Radiocarpal joint

This is where the radius meets the first row of carpal bones. This is considered the main joint of the wrist, as this is where most of the bending back and forth occurs.

  1. Midcarpal joint

This is the junction of the first row of carpals with the second row. This group of joints assists in the movements of the radiocarpal joint.

  1. Carpometacarpal joint

This is a collection of the five joints that connect the wrist to the hand. At the thumb, this joint allows the thumb to act like a joystick and move in multiple directions. At the four fingers, this joint allows the fingers to move up and down and side to side.

Four main ligaments support and cross the wrist joint. They provide stability in all directions.

The wrist has both small intrinsic muscles as well as larger extrinsic muscles that cross the entire joint. The function of the wrist muscles is to allow for larger global movements as well as small, fine motor movements of the hand.

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