Acute and chronic wrist problems can significantly limit a person's ability to enjoy everyday life. Pain, swelling, and weakness can make activities like typing and tying shoes very difficult. Wrist problems are usually the result of injuries, either acute blows to the wrist or overuse of the joint. Bone fractures, tendinitis, and carpal tunnel syndrome are the most common sources of wrist pain. Degenerative conditions such as arthritis can also cause aches and loss of mobility in the wrist joint.
Injury-related wrist problems are categorized by the structures they affect. Fractures of bone tissue in the wrist or hand are usually the result of a direct blow or awkward fall. A fracture results in immediate pain, swelling, and stiffness, and needs to be evaluated as soon as possible by a doctor. The physician can determine the severity of a break and prescribe pain relievers. Most minor fractures are set with braces or casts, though large breaks may require surgery to fully heal.
Other common acute injuries include wrist sprains and strains. The tendons, ligaments, and cartilage in the wrist joint can stretch or tear because of sudden twisting motion or pressure from picking up a heavy object. Dull aches and weakness can usually be relieved by resting and icing the joint, and wearing a protective wrap when engaging in activity. Severe strains occasionally require surgery to mend tissue back together.
Many wrist problems are the result of repetitive overuse. Athletes, construction workers, and others who frequently work with their hands may experience wrist tendinitis. Overexertion causes the tendons to become irritated, inflamed, and swollen. The result is chronic pain, weakness in the fingers, and wrist swelling. Tendinitis can usually be alleviated by avoiding the cause of stress and frequently icing the joint. A severe or persistent case of tendinitis should be reported to a doctor to determine the proper course of treatment.
Nerves in the wrist can also be affected by overuse. Constant pressure on the median nerve, an essential structure that helps to control the fingers, can result in carpal tunnel syndrome. A person with carpal tunnel syndrome may experience finger numbness, tingling sensations, and throbbing pain in and around the wrist joint. Treatment usually includes splinting the affected wrist and prescribing pain medication to alleviate symptoms. Patients can prevent recurring injuries by taking care to not put pressure on their wrists for extended periods of time.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a leading cause of wrist problems in individuals of all ages. The condition causes severe inflammation of the wrist and finger joints, and can spread to other areas of the body in time. Doctors are unsure what causes rheumatoid arthritis, and there is no reliable cure for the condition. Symptoms can be relieved, however, by taking anti-inflammatory drugs and exercising the wrists regularly. Surgery is recommended when arthritis disables the hands or causes constant, severe pain.