Hand Pain: Carpal Tunnel, Trigger Finger, or Something Else?

Jul 9, 2022

Hand PainOur hands feature a complex design with delicate structures like bones, joints, connective tissues, and nerves that allow for everyday tasks and dexterous movements. From turning a doorknob to brushing your teeth, you depend on your hands to perform precise movements. You might not even realize just how much you use your hands for every little thing until hand pain starts to bother you. No matter what causes your hand pain, it can keep you from going about your day, completing necessary tasks, and participating in activities you enjoy. While our hands feature 27 bones and other structures necessary for dexterity and strength, they are also vulnerable to injury or other issues that can cause pain and discomfort. While you might be tempted to wait for hand pain to go away on its own, you could end up with a more serious issue like chronic pain. Talk to your doctor about hand pain that keeps you from regular routines and activities so they can help identify the cause and treatment options for you.

5 Possible Causes of Hand Pain

While an injury or chronic health condition might seem like the most likely cause of your hand pain, other reasons might contribute to your symptoms. Here are five possible causes of your hand pain, along with other symptoms you might experience.


Arthritis refers to inflammation of the joints and is the most common cause of hand pain. With over 20 joints in one hand alone, arthritis of the hand can negatively impact your daily life. With so many different types of arthritis, you want to see a doctor who can determine what kind you are experiencing so that you get the most appropriate treatments available. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis and is what people often think of when they hear the term arthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs with wear and tear on the body and typically affects older adults. Cartilage helps cushion joints and prevent bones from rubbing together. Over time, the cartilage around your joints can start to break down, making regular movements more painful as joints lose their ability to move as smoothly as they used to.

Rheumatoid arthritis is the other common type of arthritis that can impact your hands. Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis occurs because the body’s immune system starts attacking healthy tissue inside the body. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, you may end up with your own immune system attacking the cartilage and joint lining in your hands, which leads to painful and uncomfortable symptoms of arthritis. Other symptoms can include increased pain in the morning, joint stiffness, swelling around the knuckles of your fingers, and sensations of grinding or grating when you move your fingers and hands a certain way.

Carpal Tunnel

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a health condition that affects the median nerve, causing pain, tingling, and stiffness in your hand and wrist. While many people associate carpal tunnel syndrome with a wrist problem, it can also impact your hand as well. The carpal tunnel refers to a tissue-made tunnel inside your wrist for the median nerve to pass through. Your median nerve sends signals to the muscles in your forearm and hand so you can flex, grasp, point, and more. If the carpal tunnel where the median nerve passes through becomes aggravated or inflamed, it can compress the median nerve and impact your forearm, wrist, and hand. Carpal tunnel syndrome typically develops after repeated movements or overuse, leading to thickening and inflammation of tendons and other soft tissues. Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome can start off mild, with a burning, tingling type of pain that can extend into your thumb, index finger, and middle finger. You may feel like your fingers are swollen if you don’t see any swelling and notice increased pain and discomfort after periods of rest. Carpal tunnel syndrome can make it difficult to grasp small objects by decreasing your grip strength. Women are more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome than men, though it can happen to anyone, especially people who perform regular movements or tasks that put stress and strain on their forearms and wrists.

Trigger Finger

Hold out your hand in front of you with your fingers straight, then gently flex your fingers before rolling them into a fist. If this causes you pain in one or more of your fingers, you might be dealing with trigger finger. When tendons that support your fingers become inflamed, it can lead to tenderness and pain, known as trigger finger. This condition can make it painful or difficult to straighten and bend your finger because inflammation affects the tendons that control flexing movements in your hand and fingers. You may notice the base of your thumb or another finger feels sore and might even feel a lump or bump in the area. When you flex and straighten your fingers, you might hear a clicking or snapping noise. Trigger finger can also cause stiffness in your affected fingers, and without treatment, it can advance to where your finger becomes locked in a straight or bent position, which is where trigger finger gets its name.

Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy is a condition where your peripheral nerves become damaged due to a health condition or traumatic injury. Your peripheral nerves allow you to experience the five senses with your hands and fingers, like touch, temperature, and pain. If you have peripheral neuropathy, you may lose these senses because the nerves become damaged. Neuropathic pain can occur in your extremities like your hands and feet and end up negatively impacting your daily routines and activities. In fact, when these nerves become damaged, the nerves end up sending signals of pain or other symptoms even though nothing is actively harming you. People with diabetes, metabolic problems, or a recent traumatic injury are more likely to deal with peripheral neuropathy. If you have peripheral neuropathy in your hands and fingers, you might notice a pins and needles sensation like prickling, tingling, and numbness in your hands. Peripheral neuropathy can also cause sharp, stabbing pain that extends into your hands and fingers, and you may experience more sensitivity in your hands.

Traumatic Injury

A sudden and traumatic injury to your hand can also leave you in pain. Whether you braced yourself for a fall with outstretched hands or injured a hand while playing a sport you love, hand injuries are unfortunately common. People who use their hands repeatedly during their job, like in construction or on an assembly line, can be at greater risk for a hand injury. You can also suffer a hand injury from a serious incident like a car accident. Hand injuries should always receive prompt attention from a doctor because failure to address any damage to bones or joints can result in structural damage that can affect your movements and dexterity. Common hand injuries include muscle sprains, strains, and broken bones.

When to See a Doctor for Hand Pain

If you notice new pain in your hand or pain that suddenly gets worse, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. While some hand problems can develop gradually, others can occur suddenly and without warning. No matter how your hand pain first appears, the sooner you seek treatment, the sooner you can get an appropriate diagnosis and treatment options to provide you with lasting relief. Your doctor may want to run diagnostic imaging tests like an X-ray or CT scan to get a detailed picture of the structures in your hand and wrist. These diagnostic tools can help determine what is causing your pain while also ruling out other potential injuries or issues with similar presenting symptoms. If you experience a sudden, traumatic injury and have severe bleeding, swelling, or loss of mobility, then you may want to visit an emergency room or urgent care for prompt medical attention.

How to Treat Hand Pain

How to Treat Hand PainYour treatment options for hand pain will depend on the source of your pain, along with the severity of your symptoms. Here are some examples of how your doctor may recommend you treat hand pain either at home or with a trusted medical provider.

Home Remedies

For mild hand pain, your doctor may suggest home remedies like rest, ice, and heat. If your hand pain is caused by overuse or repetitive movements, then taking a break from those activities can allow any swelling and inflammation to go down, which can help take pressure off nerves and soft tissues in your hands. Applying ice or a cold compress helps reduce inflammation and also provides a temporary numbing sensation to help relieve pain and discomfort. A warm compress or heating pad can also soothe stiff, aching muscles and improve mobility.

Pain Management

Your doctor may also recommend other options for pain management, including over-the-counter medications, prescription medications, or steroid injections. Your pain management options will depend on the severity of your symptoms and the specific cause of your pain. For example, over-the-counter medication can help reduce the temporary effects of inflammation while also temporarily masking your pain. Though this does not treat the pain at the source, so it is typically recommended alongside other treatment options for longer-lasting results. Severe or chronic cases of hand pain may require more invasive procedures to help reduce pain for longer stretches of time, like cortisone shots to help manage arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome.


In some cases, your doctor may also recommend a splint or brace to provide better support and restrict certain movement of your hand and wrist. A finger splint can help with a dislocated or fractured finger, while a hand splint can protect your hand while you recover from pain, swelling, and inflammation. Your doctor may recommend a splint if you have arthritis to help protect and support your joints. A splint or brace will help ensure your joint is positioned correctly, which can reduce aggravation and damage to soft tissues and nerves nearby.

Physical Therapy

Whether you are dealing with chronic pain from arthritis or recovering from a hand injury, physical therapy can help. A physical therapist will provide you with a hands-on approach to treatment that may include stretches, exercises, and therapeutic massage to promote healing and improve your mobility. Stretches and exercises may also target muscles and tendons to help them grow stronger and provide your hand and wrist with better stability and support. Your physical therapist may also walk you through stretches and exercises you can perform at home and in between sessions to help combat pain and allow you to regain range of motion safely and gently.


In rare cases, your doctor may recommend surgery to address your chronic hand pain. You may also need surgery after a severe traumatic injury to your hand or wrist. When pain prevents you from completing everyday tasks like flexing your hand and grasping objects, your doctor will first recommend conservative treatment approaches. If these techniques fail to address your pain and you still have issues with immobility or pain that prevents you from using your hand, then a hand surgeon may need to assess your hand structure and functionality. Talk to your doctor about all your options for pain management and relief before you resort to surgery, which can have a longer recovery period but may be your best option for long-term pain relief.


doctors can help you find lasting pain relief from hand painVisit AICA Orthopedics in Marietta to learn more about how our team of doctors can help you find lasting pain relief from hand pain. Our doctors include orthopedic surgeons, neurologists, chiropractors, and physical therapists who work together to create individualized, comprehensive treatment plans. We have diagnostic imaging tools like X-rays and CT scans in the office so you can meet with your doctor and get the scans you need all in one convenient Marietta location. Don’t let hand pain affect your quality of life! Talk to a Marietta hand doctor at AICA Orthopedics about all your options today.


Contact Us

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.