Hand pain is a condition that causes considerable discomfort and interferes with everyday life. Therefore, proper diagnosis and treatment assigned are essential to resume normal functioning and prevent possible complications.
Hand pain diagnosis
To diagnose hand pain, pain in the fingers or wrist, the doctor begins with assessing the patient’s health history and a physical examination. When the healthcare provider examines you, the specialist will pay special attention to the hands. The doctor may look at your non-painful hand to compare it to the affected one. The physician is looking for swelling, signs of impaired circulation, infection, or injury to the joints or tendons.
Your doctor may ask you to perform several movements with your hands. In addition, the specialist may move your hands or fingers in various ways, checking for nerve function and muscle strength. The doctor may ask you how different movements affect your hand pain.
A specialist may not be able to make or confirm a diagnosis based only on a physical examination. In this case, the physician may suggest lab tests or imaging studies to diagnose hand pain. They may involve:
- Imaging studies. When a physician needs to see the internal structures of the hand to determine the reason for pain, imaging tests are recommended. They may include:
- computed tomography (CT)
- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- video fluoroscopy
- bone scan
- Electrodiagnostic tests. If your doctor suspects nerve problems are causing your hand pain, electrodiagnostic tests might be recommended. They may include:
- Nerve conduction studies
- Laboratory tests. Blood tests can sometimes help in confirming a suspected diagnosis and may include:
- Rheumatoid factor
- Anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide antibody (also called anti-CCP)
- Antinuclear antibodies (also called ANAs)
Sometimes, the doctor suspects that infection or other problems with the fluid surrounding a joint causes joint inflammation and hand pain. In this case, fluid may be drawn out from around the joint and examined under a microscope.
Hand pain treatment
Hand pain treatments vary, depending on what is causing the symptoms. For example:
- De Quervain’s syndrome: One of the recommended treatments for hand pain caused by this disorder may be to wear a splint that supports the thumb and wrist. Other treatments might include:
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Injections of corticosteroids
- Surgery (if other treatments fail to provide relief)
- Carpal tunnel syndrome: Treatments for hand pain caused by carpal tunnel syndrome often include:
- Anti-inflammatory and analgesic medications
- Hand splints to allow the wrist to rest
- Physical therapy
- Corticosteroid injections
- Arthritis: Hand pain treatments for arthritis might include:
- Over-the-counter or prescription anti-inflammatories
- Heat applications
- Physical therapy
- Fractures: When broken bones are the reason for hand pain, treatment might require casting or splinting. If a fracture is severe, surgery might be needed and may include the insertion of wires, screws, or plates to set the bones in place.
For some people, alternative medicine can provide relief from pain as a treatment for hand pain. Examples of alternative treatments for hand pain include massage therapy, diet therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic, or reflexology. The key to using alternative therapies is to obtain a proper diagnosis. Additionally, it is essential to check with your doctor before beginning to ensure the treatment for hand pain is safe for you.
How to prevent hand pain
Preventing hand pain and the conditions that cause it isn’t always possible. Still, in some cases, you can take steps to decrease your risk of developing painful disorders.
Preventing hand pain due to carpal tunnel syndrome
- Take good care of your overall health:
- Don’t smoke or use tobacco products
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Get some form of exercise regularly
- Keep the muscles in your arms, hands, and fingers strong and flexible
- Avoid or take frequent rest breaks from any activities that cause pain or numbness in your forearm, hand, or fingers
- When performing repetitive tasks, practice:
- Keeping your wrists straight
- Changing positions often
- Switching between hands doing most of the work
- Stretching your fingers and wrists at frequent intervals
- Practice good posture throughout your back, shoulders, and neck
- If you tend to retain body fluid, lower the amount of salt in your diet
- Ask your doctor about wearing a splint on your wrist while sleeping to prevent it from bending too far
Preventing hand pain due to rheumatoid arthritis
- Improve your diet to decrease inflammation. For many people with inflammatory conditions, this might include:
- Avoiding sugar (especially fructose)
- Limit the amount of grains in the diet
- Avoid processed foods
- Increase the intake of omega-3 fats
- Gently exercise your joints: When you don’t use your hands and fingers, the joints and muscles can become weak and stiff, causing even more pain. However, inappropriate exercise can injure damaged joints, so use caution when exercising rheumatic joints. Gently moving your fingers through their range of motion can help the joints maintain their mobility.
- Ice: Ice can help decrease swelling and prevent hand pain from escalating if the joints are swollen. Don’t apply ice directly to your skin, and don’t use it for longer than 15 minutes at a time.
- Heat: Mild heat before you exercise can make your joints more likely to cooperate. If your hand pain persists for more than an hour after exercising, you are probably exercising too much. Back off on your exercises or choose another activity.
- Assistive devices: Ask your healthcare provider, a physical therapist, or an occupational therapist about devices to help prevent hand pain due to arthritis.
Whenever you suffer from hand pain, it’s crucial to prevent complications in other areas of your body. Explore ways to work a general fitness plan into your daily routine. For example, ask your healthcare provider if it is safe for you to walk, swim, or use a stationary bicycle. Maintaining and improving your cardiovascular health may ultimately improve or prevent hand pain.