Bones, joints, ligaments and muscles all suffer from some injury or strain throughout our lifetime. The hand and wrist are one of the most common areas where pain occurs in the general population based on the types of repetitive motions we perform with our hands and the range of the movement we have in the wrist with its set of unfused bones. If we think about the time we spend using our wrists and hands to open doors, push and pull things, pick up and throw, in addition to the hours spent typing and driving, we can gauge the constant activity in this area where the hand and wrist meet.
Our clients at In Motion O.C. suffer from a variety of pain types associated with their hands and wrists. Much of the pain causes them to reduce activity in their hands and wrists over time as much as possible, but this isn’t an easy task nor is it to their benefit. During our physical therapy sessions in our innovative dual treatment facility, we focus on understanding the pain we feel, how to reduce this pain with the right movements, increase that range of motion and how to avoid injury. Not only do we rejuvenate the muscles, tendons and joint function as it supports movement, but we enhance performance so you can participate in activities you weren’t able to previously in your life. Physical therapy and fitness training aren’t just about pain management they’re about changing lives and brightening the quality for every client that chooses to work smarter in the process.
As we focus on the types of pain, causes and options for pain reduction at In Motion O.C., we will go through the structure of both the hand and wrist. Fully grasping the structure of our hands and wrists will help you frame the activities you perform and allow you to reference the origin of any discomfort. Your therapist will go through your pain symptoms with you and decide whether or not you require additional therapeutic exercises to regain flexibility and function in this area once the cause of pain is found.
Hand and Wrist Anatomy
Your forearm has two rotating bones called the radius and the ulna that allow you to move your wrist in a twisting motion and rotate the hand. The wrist is at the base of the hand connecting it to the forearm by carpals, eight tiny little bones that resemble pebbles. Broken into several sections of bone, the hand is composed of metacarpals and phalanges (proximal, middle and distal) that make up our fingers. Articular cartilage covers the ends of every bone as it sits against another to protect it from wear and tear; in between these bones are joints on either side of the carpals as they connect to the radius and ulna as well as the metacarpals. In between each bone in the phalanges are joints as well. The function of the joints again is to offer padding and shock absorption during movement.
To wrap these bones and hold them together are ligaments made of cartilaginous fibers. These ligaments cover the carpals, creating a joint capsule; the joint capsule tethers the metacarpals for stability and support. Extending and spreading our fingers requires an additional larger ligament called the transverse ligament which stretches across the wrist; this ligament also wraps around the tendons extending from the arm muscles, connecting to each finger as they expand and contract to grasp and perform tasks. Tendons and muscles attached to the hand and wrist are prefaced with adductor or flexor names depending on the action they serve. Included in these tissues are complex nerves that run through the wrist and hand to signal movement. Our thumb, for example, is opposable, meaning its action is different than the rest of your fingers so you can grasp and open doors.
When we experience pain in the wrists and hands, performing our daily tasks is problematic; we use our hands for flexibility to manipulate their position from the wrists. Without proper exercise, the muscles here and fluid-filled joints suffer from strain or fracture. Uncommon conditions such as infection and cancerous tissues can add pressure or irritation here. We will discuss the common causes of hand and wrist pain, how to reduce your pain and ways you can increase your range of motion to reduce future damage.
Common Causes of Wrist and Hand Pain
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel is caused by inflammation of the median nerve as it’s pinched in the wrist. Pain from this type of nerve compression moves into most of the hand and wrist, covering the thumb, index finger, middle finger and only half of your ring finger. For those that suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome, opening jars or any squeezing action can create a radiating or shooting pain from the hand up into the wrist. Your fingers may feel pinpricks, tingling or lose feeling altogether.
Muscle Sprain, Strain and Tendonitis
Inflammation and swelling in the muscles or tearing in overworked tendons creates mobility reduction in the wrists. Any movement with muscle sprain, strain or tendonitis can be uncomfortable. Depending on which tendon the pain comes from, movement in one part of the hand or complete immobility of the wrist means you should see your doctor.
Based on the current tech lifestyle in the United States, repetitive motion in the hand and wrist can cause hyperextension or joint dislocation. The way we rest our wrists on the end of a computer and stress the hand muscles to work overtime can cause inflammation as well. Tension and positioning are a large part of the pain felt from recurring stress.
We see this in a lot of older patients, where the hands are twisted, and wrists manipulate their position to make it nearly impossible for them to use their hands as they need to. With rheumatoid arthritis the joint wears down to almost nothing and moving the fingers or wrists can be painful. Tendons degenerate and are at risk of any strain. We also have stiffening or locking of the joints, and when the weather is cooler, this condition is tenfold.
What can you do about your hand and wrist pain?
Before you decide to see a doctor, if the pain is mild enough and has only been present for a short time, you can treat this discomfort and stiffness with a few enhanced physical therapy exercises. We have created a few videos below to get you started. In addition to these exercises, which can warm the muscles, increase your circulation and help to rebuilt broken down muscle fibers, you should rest the area. Cold packs can calm any swelling from nerve pinching, tendonitis or muscle strain. We recommend picking up a brace or wrapping the hand and wrist for a couple of days as you rest before moving on to exercise. Ibuprofen or your choice of anti-inflammatory is an excellent way to promote healing.
*This information about physical therapy for hand and wrist ailments was reviewed by Dr Natalie Thomas, PT, DPT. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us here.
For more information on the types of pain in your hand and wrist area, please call In Motion O.C. today at 949-861-8600.