Left hand pain is a symptom of several different conditions, some much more serious than others. It is unusual for people to experience pain in one hand but not the other absent some obvious and targeted injury, however, which makes paying attention to the symptoms quite important. People who use one hand more than the other are most at risk for pain associated with repetitive use injuries and cramping, but certain degenerative conditions like diabetes and multiple sclerosis may also be to blame. Pain that radiates up the arm might also indicate a coming heart attack. In general, anyone who has unexplained pain in one hand that doesn’t go away on its own should usually seek medical attention to rule out serious problems.
By far the most common cause of pain in the left hand is injury to the left arm, wrist, or elbow. Fractures, sprains, and bruising can all cause sensation in the hand even if the hand wasn’t actually hurt. The human arm is made up of a series of muscles, tendons, and ligaments that are all interconnected. Damage in one area is often felt elsewhere as other muscles are forced to work harder; pain also tends to spread out from the site of the initial aggravation and into surrounding areas.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Most people think of wrist tenderness and tingling when they think about carpal tunnel syndrome, but hand pain is also included. Carpal tunnel syndrome happens when the median nerve in the wrist is pinched between bone, usually as a result of excessive, repetitive motion. Typists and people who spend a lot of time working on the computer frequently develop this condition, as do checkers, scanners, and clerks — basically anyone who commonly keeps their wrists engaged at an angle.
Carpal tunnel typically happens to both wrists at the same time, but a lot of this is dependant on the activity that caused it. Someone who uses their left hand more than their right may develop pain on just the one side. Wearing a brace to stabilize the muscles is one of the best ways to combat this; in serious cases, though, surgery may be necessary to repair damaged tissues and restore nerve function.
Tendonitis in the wrist, fingers, or lower arm may also be to blame. This condition happens when one or more tendons become inflamed, which causes swelling and irritation or, in extreme cases, a total loss of sensation or permanent nerve damage. A number of tendons run up and down the hand connecting the muscles of the fingers to those of the wrist and arm, and inflammation can happen to one or all of them.
Most people who have pain in the left hand from tendonitis develop it either by straining or overusing the muscles in their hands, fingers, or wrists. Pianists, gardeners, and painters are some of the most common patients. In most cases the inflammation will go away on its own, but certain medications can be prescribed to ease the swelling and speed up healing.
Repetitive Motion Syndrome and Cramping
Pain can sometimes happen after repetitive motions that don’t damage the nerves or tendons, so can’t properly be classified as carpal tunnel or tendonitis. This sort of injury is usually more like a simple sprain in that is isn’t usually very serious and will normally go away on its own. Many medical professionals say that this sort of damage is due to “repetitive motive syndrome,” though there is some controversy when it comes to actually classifying this as a formal condition. Other experts simply refer to it as an overuse injury.
Muscle cramps are similar. Left-handed people who spend a lot of time doing things like writing, drawing, or painting often experience painful cramps if they grip their pen or brush too tightly, or if their bodies are positioned at an awkward or otherwise unnatural angle. Cramps can normally be relieved with a combination of stretching and rest, though over the counter painkillers can also be helpful in the short term.
Diseases and Degenerative Conditions
Pain that doesn’t go away on its own or that tends to come and go without a clear connection to some activity or use may be caused by a more serious medical condition. Diabetes is a common example. People who suffer from diabetes have trouble regulating their blood sugar levels, which can cause inflammation and pain in a number of different body parts. A person might feel pain in their left hand one day but in their right the next, for instance. Most of the time this will subside once the blood’s chemistry is back to normal, but not always; when left untreated, diabetes can cause lasting damage to the hands and feet.
Neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis might also be a cause. Multiple sclerosis patients typically face a slow deterioration of nerve and muscle control as the protective coating around the body’s main nerve structures wears away and breaks down prematurely. The disease isn’t usually curable, but patients can often control their symptoms, including left hand pain, through a series of different drug regimens.
One of the most well-known signs of a coming heart attack is sudden, shooting pain in the arm, which often includes or sometimes even begins with the hand. In these cases left hand pain is usually only one of several other more serious symptoms, including tightness and crushing pain in the chest, faintness and shortness of breath, and a sudden onset of overwhelming fatigue. Anyone who experiences or sees another person experiencing these things should get immediate medical attention. Prompt treatment can often be the difference between life and death.
Medical Interventions and Treatment Options
Medical professionals usually advise people to keep a close watch on left hand pain and to get help if it recurs or gets worse over time. It isn’t usually considered “normal” to regularly have pain in one hand but not the other — and any pain is usually a sign that something is wrong. Healthcare providers who are able to diagnose the root cause are often able to provide the best treatment.