Wrist Pain: Where Does This Pain Come From?
Photo by Tom Claes on Unsplash

Wrist pain can have various origins but is mainly due to trauma, such as fractures of a bone or tearing of a ligament (sprain). With age or the practice of repeated gestures, other diseases can also appear and cause wrist pain.


Wrist pain can appear suddenly, following trauma, such as a fall or twist, or it can be chronic, that is to say, it settles gradually and over time.

It is most often accompanied by other symptoms, such as:

  • redness of the wrist;
  • joint stiffness;
  • swelling;
  • or a feeling of warmth.

Hand and wrist movements can also be more or less affected depending on the cause causing the pain.

As a reminder, the wrist is the hinge area between the hand and forearm. It is composed of several joints that are essential for hand movements and gripping, that is, our ability to grasp objects.

It is at the wrist that the ends of the bones of the forearm (the ulna and radius) and the carpal bones that are at the base of the hand meet. In adulthood, the carpal bones are eight in number and are held in place by a complex network of ligaments.


Several causes can cause wrist pain. The most frequent are of traumatic origins, such as:

  • Bone fractures: The most common is the fracture of the scaphoid, one of the carpal bones located at the base of the thumb. In this case, the pain may be mild and the fracture is sometimes difficult to detect, even on X-rays;
  • Sprains: they affect the ligaments and are benign when they are simply stretched, but more serious if a complete rupture is observed.

Other causes can also lead to wrist pain. Include:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis: This often affects both wrists at the same time and can manifest itself gradually or set in abruptly by an acute attack. It is an inflammation of unknown origin that gradually destroys the joints;
  • Osteoarthritis: it is mechanical wear of the cartilage of the joint. It most often affects the wrist bones at the base of the thumb;
  • Tendinitis of the wrist: inflammation of the tendons is usually due to a repetitive effort or gesture that weakens them. The most common in the wrist is Quervain’s tendonitis which affects the tendons at the base of the thumb;
  • carpal tunnel syndrome: The carpal tunnel is located in the center of the wrist. In particular, it allows the passage of the median nerve which provides the sensitivity of the thumb, index, middle, and part of the ring finger. Several diseases can cause compression of this nerve and cause loss of sensitivity or tingling in the fingers. In this case, wrist pain can go up to the elbow, or even to the shoulder and become very disabling in everyday life.

More rarely, wrist pain may be due to gout attacks following uric acid deposits in the joints. When these are calcium deposits, it is called articular chondrocalcinosis (also called pseudo-gout).

Evolution and possible complications

The evolution of pain depends directly on its origin of it. A poorly treated fracture or sprain can lead to the appearance of osteoarthritis or even more serious complications, such as necrosis.

In some cases, after trauma, such as a fracture, the pain can last for several months and be accompanied by blood circulation disorders and bone problems. This is called algodystrophy.

It is an anomaly of nerve conduction whose real causes are still poorly known, but which most often evolves towards spontaneous healing in a few months.

Treatment and prevention: what solutions?

Treatment of wrist pain will depend on the underlying cause. Not all of them require medical attention. In some cases, resting the joint, as well as applying ice to the area and taking over-the-counter painkillers, may be enough to soothe the pain.

If pain or symptoms of inflammation, such as redness, swelling, or a feeling of warmth persist, it is recommended to consult a doctor. The latter will be able to establish an accurate diagnosis and adjust treatment accordingly. For example, he may offer a splint, antibiotics, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pain.

In order to prevent the onset of pain or the relapse of certain diseases, it is especially recommended to limit repetitive movements of the wrist, as well as violent efforts.

Image Credit: Photo by Tom Claes on Unsplash

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