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Why do my hands ache?

Hand pain is very common and can have many different causes. In most cases, minor hand aches go away quickly, but ongoing hand pain should be checked by a doctor. Common causes of hand pain include overuse injuries, arthritis, and nerve problems.

What are the common causes of hand pain?

There are several potential causes of hand pain:

  • Arthritis – Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can cause joint pain, stiffness, and swelling in the hands. This tends to get worse with use.
  • Overuse injuries – Repetitive hand motions and gripping can lead to injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, and trigger finger.
  • Nerve problems – Compression of nerves in the wrist or elbow, like with carpal tunnel syndrome, can cause numbness, tingling, and pain in the hands.
  • Infections – Bacterial and viral infections can cause swelling and pain in the hands and fingers.
  • Injuries – Broken bones, sprains, and trauma to the hands can lead to hand pain.
  • Medical conditions – Diabetes, thyroid disorders, and autoimmune diseases are some conditions that can contribute to hand pain and numbness.

What are the most common hand pain causes?

The most common causes of hand pain are:

  1. Carpal tunnel syndrome – This painful nerve condition causes numbness, tingling, and pain in the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers. It results from compression of the median nerve as it travels through the wrist.
  2. Osteoarthritis – The wear and tear form of arthritis that commonly affects the hands and fingers, causing swollen, stiff, and painful joints at the base of the thumbs and middle knuckles.
  3. Tendonitis – Inflammation of the tendons in the hands from repetitive gripping actions. This leads to pain and swelling along the tendons, often near the wrists or palms.
  4. Trigger finger – Also called stenosing tenosynovitis, this causes tender nodules on the fingers or thumb joints that catch as the digits are bent and straightened.
  5. Rheumatoid arthritis – An autoimmune form of arthritis that can affect the hands, causing widespread stiff, painful, and swollen joints throughout the hands and fingers.

What conditions can cause hand numbness?

Some common causes of numbness or tingling in the hands include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome – The most common cause, resulting from compression of the median nerve.
  • Cubital tunnel syndrome – Compression of the ulnar nerve in the elbow.
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon – Blood vessel spasms that reduce blood flow to the fingers.
  • Diabetes – Elevated blood sugar levels from diabetes can damage nerves.
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency – Lack of this vitamin can damage nerves.
  • Alcoholism – Long-term alcohol abuse is associated with nerve damage.
  • Pinched nerve in the neck – Herniated discs or spine conditions irritating nerves in the neck.

Numbness or pain in the ring and pinky fingers suggests cubital tunnel syndrome, while carpal tunnel syndrome usually spares these fingers.

What are the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome has several main symptoms including:

  • Numbness or tingling in the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers – Typically worse at night and with repetitive hand motions
  • Weakened grip strength
  • Wrist pain that can radiate up the arm
  • Clumsiness of the hands
  • Dry skin, swelling, or color changes in the fingers
  • Difficulty distinguishing hot and cold by touch

Symptoms are often felt first at night because wrist flexion during sleep reduces the carpal tunnel space.

What are risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome?

Some common carpal tunnel risk factors include:

  • Repetitive hand motions – Especially forceful grasping or pinching
  • Hand vibration – From use of vibrating tools
  • Obesity
  • Fluid retention – Common during pregnancy or menopause
  • Wrist fracture or dislocation
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Older age
  • Female gender

What treatments help carpal tunnel syndrome?

Treatment options for carpal tunnel include:

  • Wrist splinting – To keep the wrist in a neutral position, especially at night
  • NSAIDs – Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen
  • Corticosteroid injection – Into the carpal tunnel to reduce inflammation
  • Surgery – Carpal tunnel release surgery to open more space for the median nerve
  • Occupational therapy – To evaluate work duties and modify activities
  • Yoga and stretching – Gentle stretches and yoga for hands and arms

Mild cases can be treated conservatively with splinting and anti-inflammatory medication. More severe or persistent cases often require surgery to fully relieve pressure on the median nerve.

What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis of the hands?

Osteoarthritis of the hands causes:

  • Pain, aching, and stiffness in the joints – Particularly after periods of inactivity
  • Swelling in the knuckles and fingers
  • Bony knobs in the middle and end knuckles
  • Reduced range of motion and dexterity
  • Joint enlargement or deformity
  • Crunching or grinding sensation when joints are moved

The base of the thumb and middle knuckles are most commonly affected. Symptoms develop gradually and are often worse in the mornings and evenings.

What are the causes of osteoarthritis in the hands?

Risk factors for developing osteoarthritis in the hands include:

  • Older age
  • Female gender
  • Obesity
  • Genetics
  • Joint injuries
  • Repetitive hand use
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

It occurs due to wear and tear on the cartilage that cushions joints over decades. Injury, overuse, and inflammation can accelerate cartilage breakdown.

How is osteoarthritis of the hands treated?

Osteoarthritis of the hands can be treated by:

  • Pain relievers – NSAIDs, paracetamol
  • Heat and cold therapy
  • Assistive devices – For activities of daily living
  • Exercise – To improve strength and flexibility
  • Occupational therapy – To learn joint protection
  • Surgery – Such as arthrodesis, arthroplasty, or synovectomy in severe cases

Treatment focuses on relieving pain, improving function, and slowing the progression of joint damage. Severely affected joints may ultimately require surgery.

What are some exercises for hand arthritis?

Some beneficial exercises for hand arthritis include:

  • Gentle stretches – Gently stretch fingers, hands, and wrists to the point of feeling tightness.
  • Finger bends – Slowly bend fingers into a fist and then straighten.
  • Wrist flexions – Bend wrists gently up and down.
  • Forearm rotation – Rotate forearms slowly.
  • Finger walking – “Walk” fingers up a table or wall by bending knuckles.
  • Stress ball squeezes – Squeeze a soft stress ball.
  • Thumb to finger taps – Lightly tap thumb to each finger.

These exercises can help maintain range of motion and flexibility. Move within comfort levels and avoid over-exerting sore joints.

What helps ease arthritis hand pain?

Tips to help relieve arthritic hand pain include:

  • Apply cold or heat – Icing or heating pads can help ease sore joints.
  • Use finger splints – To immobilize and rest painful joints.
  • Wear wrist braces – To stabilize and support.
  • Take anti-inflammatory medication – NSAIDs, like ibuprofen.
  • Try compression gloves – To provide extra support.
  • Get paraffin wax treatments – Heat therapy that can soothe.
  • Consider cortisone injections – For severe inflammation.
  • Practice yoga and relaxation techniques.

A combination of rest, support, anti-inflammatory medication, and heat/cold therapies often provides the best pain relief. See a doctor for severe or persistent pain.

What causes trigger finger?

Trigger finger, also called stenosing tenosynovitis, happens when inflammation narrows the sheath around a finger tendon, causing it to catch as the finger bends. Common causes include:

  • Repetitive gripping actions
  • Forceful pinching motions
  • Injury to the tendon
  • Medical conditions like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, gout
  • Long-term use of certain medications

It tends to affect the thumb, ring finger, and middle finger most often. Forceful repetitive hand motions are the primary cause in most people.

What are the symptoms of trigger finger?

Symptoms of trigger finger include:

  • Pain and tenderness at the base of the affected finger or thumb
  • A popping, clicking, or snapping sensation when bending the finger
  • Difficulty fully straightening the finger, especially first thing in the morning
  • Locking or catching of the finger when bending
  • Swelling, stiffness, and throbbing
  • Fingers stuck in a bent position

Symptoms are typically worse after periods of inactivity and improve somewhat with movement. The catching and locking sensations are hallmark signs.

How is trigger finger treated?

Trigger finger treatment involves:

  • Resting and splinting the affected finger
  • Icing to reduce swelling
  • Anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen
  • Corticosteroid injection into the tendon sheath
  • Occupational therapy to evaluate work duties
  • Surgery to open the sheath around the tendon if needed

Rest, ice, medication, and injections into the tendon sheath often help relieve symptoms. Surgery to release the tendon may be needed for severe or persistent locking and catching.

Can hand pain be prevented?

Steps that can help prevent hand pain include:

  • Use proper form and technique for hand activities
  • Take frequent breaks during repetitive tasks
  • Avoid extreme wrist positions like strong flexion or extension
  • Use ergonomic tools and objects that reduce gripping
  • Do finger, hand, and arm strengthening exercises
  • Stretch before activities and after long periods of inactivity
  • Use wrist splints during sleep or repetitive tasks
  • Treat any medical conditions that increase risks

Modifying activities, using proper technique, and building strength can help reduce unnecessary strain on the hands. Proper management of conditions like diabetes and arthritis is also key.

When should I see a doctor for hand pain?

See a doctor for hand pain that:

  • Doesn’t improve with 2-3 weeks of self-care
  • Worsens or interferes with normal activities
  • Occurs at night or wakes you from sleep
  • Follows a fall, injury, or traumatic blow to the hand
  • Causes joint deformity, swelling, or redness
  • Accompanies numbness, tingling, or weakness

While occasional minor aches often resolve on their own, worsening or persistent pain should be evaluated. Seek prompt care after injuries and for symptoms like numbness or joint changes that may indicate a serious condition.


There are many potential causes of hand pain, with the most common being overuse injuries, arthritis, and nerve compression syndromes like carpal tunnel. While mild hand aches often resolve with self-care, persistent or worsening symptoms should be evaluated by a doctor. Getting an accurate diagnosis is key to determining the right treatment approach. With proper treatment of underlying causes and modifications to hand activities, most types of hand pain can be managed successfully.