Hand Pain Causes and Treatment Options

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Hand pain can have many causes because the hand is made up of many different parts. The bones, ligaments, tendons, nerves, skin, and other structures that help the hands do a wide range of tasks can also be sources of pain.

This article will go over the causes of hand pain. You'll also learn about how you can treat hand pain at home and when you should see a healthcare provider for hand pain.

hand pain causes

Verywell / Emily Roberts

Causes of Hand Pain

Hand pain can be caused by a variety of things, but there are a few conditions that are the most common causes of hand pain. Some of these conditions need medical treatment, while others can be managed on your own at home.

Osteoarthritis Hand Pain

The hand is the part of the body where arthritis is most likely to develop, especially osteoarthritis, which is a normal part of the aging process.

Osteoarthritis happens when your joints lose cartilage. Anyone can get osteoarthritis, but it is more common as people age, and women are more likely than men to have osteoarthritis, especially after age 50. 

The signs and symptoms of hand arthritis include:

Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disease of the hand. Since there is no cure for osteoarthritis, treatment focuses on easing the pain, helping you move better, and stopping the disease from getting worse. Treatment plans include:

  • Exercise
  • Weight management
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications
  • Surgery if other treatments are not working and joint damage is extensive
  • Complementary therapies, such as massage and acupuncture

Rheumatoid Arthritis Hand Pain

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can also affect the hands. RA is an autoimmune disease that causes your immune system to attack the lining of the joints.

Signs and symptoms of RA include:

  • Pain or aching in more than one joint
  • Stiffness in more than one joint
  • Tenderness and swelling in more than one joint
  • The same symptoms on both sides of the body (such as in both hands or both knees)
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Weakness

Treatment for RA usually includes:

  • Medications called disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biological response modifiers (biologicals)
  • Self-management strategies, such as being active, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding injuries to joints

Psoriatic Arthritis Hand Pain

Another kind of inflammatory arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, can also cause hand pain from inflamed, swollen joints. It often causes swelling in the fingers (called dactylitis or "sausage fingers") and can lead to deformed joints.

Treatment may include:

  • Medications
  • Applying heat and cold to the joints
  • Splints
  • Exercise
  • Physical therapy
  • Surgery

Tendonitis Hand Pain

Tendonitis is inflammation within or around a tendon. It affects the way your hands and fingers move and causes pain and swelling. Tendonitis is caused by injuries (usually sharp, sudden movements) or repetitive movements.

Rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) are the immediate treatments for tendinitis. Other treatments may include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn)
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Corticosteroid shots
  • Antibiotics if the joint is infected
  • A splint or brace to support the joint

"Trigger Finger" Hand Pain

Sometimes, tendons get hard lumps or nodules on them, known as stenosing tenosynovitis. You can feel these bumps through your skin.

The nodules can catch on other structures in the hand and make your finger "stick" when you try to move it. When the tendon releases, it causes a snapping sensation known as "trigger finger."

It's not known what causes joint nodules in the hands but they are sometimes related to medical conditions such as RA and diabetes, or forceful movement of the fingers.

Trigger finger is treated with one or more of the following:

  • Rest and avoiding activities that make it worse
  • Splinting the affected finger or thumb
  • Hand exercises to reduce stiffness and improve range of motion
  • OTC medications to relieve pain and inflammation
  • Steroid injections

De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis

De Quervain's tenosynovitis is swelling of the tendons that run along the thumb side of the wrist and attach to the base of the thumb. 

This condition can cause pain and tenderness along the thumb side of the wrist and is particularly painful when you:

  • Move the thumb
  • Form a fist
  • Grasp or grip something
  • Turn the wrist
  • Lift something with your arms in front of you and thumbs pointed toward the ceiling (like lifting a child)

Treatment may include:

  • A removable splint that keeps the wrist straight and the thumb still
  • NSAIDs to reduce swelling and relieve pain.
  • Avoiding activities that cause pain and swelling 
  • Corticosteroids
  • Surgery if symptoms are severe or don't improve with other treatments

Surgery may be recommended if symptoms are severe or do not improve with other treatments.

Hand Pain From a Ligament Injury

Your hand has 27 bones that are all connected by a network of connective tissue called ligaments, which let your hand move while keeping your joints stable.

Any trauma to your hands can injure one or more ligaments. If you hurt a ligament in your hand, it can make activities such as bending your fingers, gripping, or pinching difficult or even impossible to do.

Ligament injuries in the hand can take months to heal. It's not uncommon for people to notice swelling and stiffness in their hands for a long time after they've injured a ligament.

Treatment for ligament injuries may include:

  • RICE
  • Splinting or casting the injured wrist or hand
  • Stretching and strengthening exercises to improve joint movement and strength
  • Physical therapy, massage, or other soft tissue treatment

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Hand Pain

Several major nerves allow the hand to feel different sensations. When one of them is injured or compressed—for example, by inflammation—it can cause a lot of pain and make the hand not work as well.

The most common hand condition involving nerve compression is carpal tunnel syndrome, which occurs with irritation or damage to the median nerve in the wrist.

Carpal tunnel syndrome causes hand pain that can be achy and sometimes "zingy," as well as tingling or numbness in the fingers and thumb.

Rubbing the inside of your wrist may cause tingling or electrical nerve sensations, as well. Pain can also go up your arm, and you may notice weakness or clumsiness.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is most often caused by repetitive stress, such as typing on a computer a lot, scanning groceries, or using a hammer.

A person's genetics and having conditions like RA, diabetes, and thyroid disease may also play a role in their risk for carpal tunnel syndrome.

Treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome may include:

  • Bracing or splinting to keep you from bending your wrist
  • NSAIDs to help relieve pain and inflammation
  • Avoiding keeping your hand and wrist in the same position for too long
  • Changing activities that aggravate symptoms, such as making changes to a work site or workstation
  • Nerve gliding exercises to help the median nerve move more freely
  • Steroid injection into the carpal tunnel to relieve pain or help calm a flare-up of symptoms
  • Surgery when necessary

A steroid injection into the carpal tunnel may relieve symptoms for a period of time.

Other nerves that go to the hand can also get pinched and cause symptoms. For example, when the ulnar nerve that runs behind your elbow joint is affected, it's called cubital tunnel syndrome.

Hand Pain From Injuries

It's very easy for the hands to get hurt. Injuries like bone fractures and muscle strains are common in the fingers and hands. Fingers get jammed into things and hands get slammed in doors or can even be stepped on during certain sports.

With many bones, joints, and muscles in a small space, the hand can get many types of breaks or strains. Each one has its own set of symptoms and effects on your ability to use your hands.

If you've hurt your hand and are in pain, you'll need to see a healthcare provider. They can find out what kind of injury you have, determine how serious it is, and provide the right treatment.

Ganglion Cyst Hand Pain

There are joints and tendon sheaths throughout your body that normally contain fluid, including in your hands. A ganglion cyst forms when fluid builds up in a pouch. It looks like a bump on your skin.

Ganglion cysts most often form in the wrist. They cause pain when they get in the way of normal movements of the joints and tendons.

Ganglion cysts are common in the hands for two reasons:

  • Hands have many joints and tendon sheaths where the cysts can form.
  • They're easy to see on the hands but can easily go unnoticed on other parts of the body.

The cause of ganglion cysts is unknown, but they're more common in females and adults under the age of 40. People whose wrists take a lot of strain—such as gymnasts—are especially likely to get ganglion cysts.

Ganglion cysts treatment may include:

  • A wrist brace or splint to immobilize the area may relieve symptoms and cause the ganglion to decrease in size
  • Exercises to strengthen the wrist and improve range of motion
  • Aspiration: draining the fluid from the cyst if the ganglion causes a great deal of pain or severely limits activities
  • Excision of the cyst if symptoms are not relieved by nonsurgical methods or if the ganglion returns after aspiration

Rare Causes of Hand Pain

If you have hand pain, it's likely to be caused by something common that your provider can easily diagnose and treat.

That said, there are also some less common causes of hand pain—like tumors or bone infections—that a healthcare provider might want to rule out, especially if you've tried the usual treatments and they haven't helped.

Raynaud's Phenomenon Hand Pain

If you have Raynaud's phenomenon, your fingers have an unusually strong reaction to cold temperatures because your blood vessels are over-responsive.

Your fingers may turn blue or white when they get cold, then turn bright red when they warm up. You may also have a painful throbbing, tingling, or swelling in your hands.

Other parts that can be affected by Raynaud's syndrome include:

  • Ears
  • Nose
  • Nipples
  • Knees
  • Toes

In some cases, Raynaud's phenomenon is a symptom of another condition, like an autoimmune or connective tissue disease, hypothyroidism, or fibromyalgia.

Sometimes, it's not known what makes the blood vessels behave abnormally in a person with Raynaud's.

Treatment for Raynaud's phenomenon may include:

  • Avoiding exposure to cold
  • Keeping warm with gloves, socks, a scarf, and a hat
  • Stopping smoking
  • Wearing finger guards over fingers with sores
  • Avoiding trauma or vibrations to the hand (such as with vibrating tools)
  • Taking blood pressure medicines during the winter months to help reduce constriction of the blood vessels

Scleroderma Hand Pain

Scleroderma is a disease that causes the skin and other organs to harden. It most often affects the hands and face but can also be more widespread. It's also called systemic sclerosis.

One of the first symptoms of scleroderma is swollen, painful muscles and joints in the hands.

Scleroderma happens because of abnormalities in the immune system, connective tissues, and small blood vessels. However, the underlying cause of these changes is not known.

Treatment for scleroderma is similar to treatment for Raynaud's phenomenon. It may also include drugs that suppress the immune system, medication to reduce stomach acid, over-the-counter pain relievers, physical therapy, and possibly surgery.

Diabetic Neuropathy Hand Pain

Diabetic peripheral neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that affects the extremities—feet, legs, hands, and arms—in people with diabetes. It affects up to one-half of those with diabetes.

There is no cure for this type of neuropathy, but there are treatments for nerve pain, which may include:

  • Medications such as antidepressants, anti-convulsants, and creams, patches or sprays
  • Physical therapy to improve strength.

How Hand Pain Is Diagnosed

Healthcare providers use different tools to find out what is causing your hand pain. Most of the time, they'll look at your hands and ask you about your symptoms, then decide what tests they need to do to make a diagnosis.

For example, if your provider wants to look at the structures inside your hand, they may order:

Your provider can also do blood tests that look for signs of infection or inflammation, including:

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Sometimes hand pain gets better with time and some self-care strategies. However, there are more serious causes of hand pain that require medical treatment.

Call your provider if you have hand pain in addition to the following:

  • Signs of infection (e.g., redness, fevers, and chills)
  • Deformity of the hand or fingers after an injury
  • Inability to bend the fingers or make a fist
  • Worsening numbness in the hands or fingers
  • Pain that does not get better with time and self-care treatment

If necessary, your healthcare provider can refer you to a provider who specializes in joint and autoimmune conditions (rheumatologist) or a bone specialist (orthopedist).

A Word From Verywell

Not all hand pain feels the same, but regardless of the type of pain, it's important to seek treatment if the pain is persistent despite home remedies, as certain causes of hand pain can lead to permanent stiffness or disability without treatment.


Hand pain can have many causes, many of which are common and can be managed at home. That being said, if the pain in your hands is affecting your life and making it hard for you to do your daily tasks, see your healthcare provider.

Your provider or a specialist like a rheumatologist or an orthopedist can figure out what is causing your hand pain and find the best treatment for you.

24 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Jonathan Cluett, MD
Dr. Cluett is board-certified in orthopedic surgery. He served as assistant team physician to Chivas USA (Major League Soccer) and the U.S. national soccer teams.