Why do my hands hurt? Arthritis and other culprits
Bone and Joint Health

Why Do My Hands Hurt?: Arthritis and Other Culprits

Do you find that sometimes you get an achy feeling in your fingers or wrist? Do you have trouble moving your fingers or gripping things? It might just feel tingly, or it might be a burning pain. It comes and goes, so you're not sure whether to worry about it. You just wonder: Why do my hands hurt? Here are three possible culprits for your hand pain and how to address them.


What It Is

Arthritis is one of the most common causes of hand pain, affecting millions of people every year. Arthritis develops over time and causes inflammation of the joints. You may have it in a finger, your wrist, or multiple spots along your hand.

Osteoarthritis is the most common type. The bones in your hand are cushioned by cartilage and lubricated by a fluid called synovium, which allows you to freely move your hands and fingers. Osteoarthritis is when the cartilage wears down and no longer cushions your bones. They begin to rub, which causes pain, swelling, inflammation, and even changes to the shape of the joint.

Rheumatoid arthritis, the second most common type, works a little differently. It's a chronic disease that can affect other parts of your body, but often starts in the hands. This is when the joint lining swells, causing pain and stiffness.

Both types of arthritis develop slowly over time, but rheumatoid arthritis is more likely to affect the same joints on both sides of the body, whereas osteoarthritis might only affect one side.

What You Can Do

Arthritis is a common condition with many treatment options. Because it worsens over time, it's best to seek medical care early. Even if you think your hand pain is mild, make an appointment with your doctor. You can perform exercises, wear arthritis gloves, and take medications to manage the symptoms.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

What It Is

The carpal tunnel is a narrow passage at the base of your hand that houses ligaments and tendons. When this passage narrows, the nerves get pinched, causing pain, tingling, numbness, and even swelling in your hands and fingers.

As with arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome starts mild and worsens over time. You will most likely have symptoms in your dominant hand first. It can develop from repetitive use of vibrating tools, an injury, or a cyst in the tunnel. People with diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis may be more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome.

What You Can Do

See a doctor when you first notice symptoms. Addressing the problem early will help you reduce further damage and treat carpal tunnel syndrome. Your doctor can look for other conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes, and help you manage those conditions to limit your hand symptoms.

Your doctor can recommend modifications to your daily activities and treatment options, such as splints or pain medications, to manage your symptoms.

Diabetic Nerve Problems

What It Is

Nerve damage from diabetes, called diabetic neuropathy, can lead to bone and joint problems and may be the culprit of your hand pain. Diabetes-related joint problems have similar symptoms to arthritis, including pain, swelling, and stiffness.

Common issues that cause hand pain in people with diabetes include:

  • Trigger finger: Your finger gets stuck in a bent position and may painfully pop back out when you straighten it. This is caused by a swollen tendon.
  • Diabetic hand syndrome: The skin on your hands thickens, making it difficult to move your hands or straighten your fingers.
  • Neuropathy: Nerve damage causes pain, numbness, or tingling in the hands.

What You Can Do

The first step to treating or avoiding hand problems from diabetes is to make sure you're managing the disease and controlling your blood sugar. See your doctor if you're having trouble keeping your diabetes under control.

Most conditions that cause pain in the hands can be treated or managed, and it's best to seek treatment early — as soon as possible after you first start to wonder, "Why do my hands hurt?" Your doctor may be able to diagnose the problem and begin managing your symptoms, or you may be referred to an orthopedist, a doctor who specializes in bone and joint health. Getting help early will help you preserve hand function longer and reduce further damage.

Posted in Bone and Joint Health

Patricia Chaney is a freelance writer specializing in the health care industry. She has nearly 10 years of experience interviewing leaders in cancer care, writing for providers and executives, and covering health care reform. Patricia has a passion for quality health care, natural health, fitness, and food.

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*This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or physician before making health care decisions.