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When to See a Doctor for a Wrist or Hand Injury

You might not think about how important your wrists and hands are to daily life--until they are hurt or injured. Suddenly, activities like typing on your keyboard, lifting objects, or playing sports become a challenge.

If you have been taking care of your wrist or hand injury at home and the symptoms are still present after seven to 10 days, it may be time to see an orthopedic doctor. Consider making an appointment if:

  • your wrist or hand pain remains the same or gets worse, even with rest,
  • your wrist or hand hurts when you aren't using them,
  • the pain returns when you resume activities such as typing or lifting a bag of groceries, or
  • the affected area shows signs of a possible infection, including warmth, redness, or tenderness. Another sign of possible infection is a fever of over 100° F/ 37.8° C.

Our orthopedic doctors specialize in caring for injuries and painful conditions of the wrist and hand. We see patients at University Orthopaedic Center, as well as other U of U Health outpatient locations. We work alongside physiatrists, family medicine physicians, physical therapists, and athletic trainers to provide the best care available.

Common Symptoms of Wrist & Hand Problems

Wrist and hand injuries can cause symptoms such as:

  • pain and tenderness,
  • swelling,
  • stiffness,
  • reduced range of motion, and
  • loss of feeling in your hand or fingers.

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Why Does My Wrist or Hand Hurt?

Some injuries to the hand or wrist result from a sudden impact, like what happens when you break a fall with your hands. These injuries can cause:

  • a fracture to one of the eight small bones in your wrist,
  • damage to tendons (the bands of tissue that attach muscles to bones),
  • damage to ligaments (the bands of tissue that hold bones together at the joint), and
  • burns.

Underlying Health Conditions

Other conditions that can cause wrist or hand problems include:

  • Arthritis — Inflammation of the joints in the wrist or thumb. Thumb arthritis is a common cause of pain near the wrist.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome Numbness and pain in your fingers and hands.
  • Ganglion cyst This is a non-cancerous fluid-filled tumor in the hand.
  • Dupuytren's contracture This occurs when soft tissues under the skin in your fingers becomes stiff. It can cause discomfort and limit your mobility.
  • Osteoarthritis This condition causes inflammation in your joints.
  • Trigger fingerThis condition (also known as “stenosing tenosynovitis”) causes palm pain, stiffness, and a feeling of locking or catching in your fingers.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis An autoimmune condition that causes joint inflammation, pain and stiffness.
  • Brachial plexus injuries — These affect the network of nerves that sends signals from your spinal cord to your shoulder, arm, and hand.
  • de Quervain’s tenosynovitis — A painful condition affecting tendons in your wrist.

When to Go to the ER or Urgent Care

Seek medical care at the emergency room or an urgent care center if:

  • you think you have a broken bone in your wrist or hand or there is a visible deformity;
  • you have an open wound that needs immediate treatment;
  • you are in severe pain; or
  • the area is warm, red, or tender, or you have a fever of over 100° F/ 37.8° C (these are signs of possible infection).

Delaying treatment could cause permanent damage to and around your wrist or hand.

What to Expect When You See an Orthopedic Doctor

During your appointment, your orthopedic doctor will:

  • examine your wrist or hand for tenderness, swelling, or deformity;
  • check your Hrange of motion and strength in your wrist or hand; and
  • get an X-ray during your visit. 

After completing the evaluation, your orthopedic doctor will talk to you about a treatment plan. Depending on the diagnosis, this may include:

  • medications to relieve pain,
  • hand therapy, and
  • immobilizing your wrist or hand with a brace or cast.

Surgery may be necessary if you have a bone fracture or tendon or ligament tear.

How to Get Rid of Wrist Pain or Hand Pain at Home

Most wrist and hand injuries get better with home care in a week to 10 days. The best approach is the “RICE” method:

  • Rest — Reduce or avoid activities that cause pain.
  • Ice — Apply an ice pack (or even a bag of frozen vegetables) to the affected area several times a day for 20 minutes at a time. After the swelling goes down in a day or two, you can alternate ice with a heating pad. The warmth increases blood flow and helps with healing.
  • Compression — Wrap your wrist or hand with a bandage or brace. This will limit your movement and help the healing process.
  • Elevation — Keep your arm elevated above the level of your heart. This will limit swelling.

Over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) also can help. Be sure to take as directed on the label.

Make an Appointment with Us

Referrals are welcome but not necessary. You can make an appointment with an orthopedic doctor by calling 801-213-4263.