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Wrist pain

Overview of wrist pain

The wrist joint is a complex structure made up of eight small bones. The bones in the wrist are connected by ligaments to the bones in the forearm and hand. If any of the structures in the wrist are damaged, it can cause pain and limit your ability to use the wrist and hand.

If you have pain in your wrist, an orthopedic doctor at Dignity Health can help identify the underlying problem and create an effective, personalized treatment plan. If you’d like a specialist to diagnose your wrist pain, Find a Doctor today.


In addition to wrist pain itself, you may experience other symptoms such as:

  • Pain or burning in your fingers, hand, wrist, or forearm
  • Difficulty performing fine motor movements (like writing, using a keyboard, or holding a cup)
  • Tingling, numbness, or weakness in your hand and wrist


The wrist is made up of several joints where the two forearm bones — the radius and the ulna — meet a group of bones called the carpus.

The carpus consists of eight bones. These eight bones, plus a band of connective tissue, make up the carpal tunnel, which is a tube running through the wrist that contains tendons and a nerve. Damage to any of these structures can result in wrist problems.

One of the most common causes of wrist pain is overuse, such as through repetitive motions like typing, drawing, writing, and sports. Overuse injuries include tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and strains. These types of problems are often chronic (long-term) and develop slowly. They can also come and go.

Arthritis is another chronic wrist problem that lasts over time. However, arthritis results from an autoimmune condition or wear and tear of the joint tissues, instead of trauma or overuse.

Broken wrists and sprains are usually the result of trauma. When people fall, they commonly catch themselves using their wrists; one of the most common scenarios in a wrist injury is falling on an outstretched hand. This causes the wrist to bend farther than the bones and ligaments can withstand.

Generally speaking, wrist pain is caused by the following conditions:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome, which occurs when the median nerve in the wrist is compressed
  • Injury, such as breaking a fall with your hand or from hard contact while playing a sport
  • Osteoarthritis, which develops when the cartilage that cushions bones deteriorates with age
  • Overuse and repetitive work, which adds stress to the wrist joint
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), which results when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissue, causing flare-ups of swelling and discomfort
  • Strains and sprains, resulting from performing a task such as carrying something heavy

A doctor at Dignity Health can assess any wrist injury or medical condition you may have to diagnose the cause of your wrist pain.

Risk factors

Some of the risk factors for wrist pain include:

  • Age
  • Family history of arthritis or previous diagnosis of arthritis
  • Limited physical activity
  • Occupations that require typing, writing, or other repetitive motions
  • Playing a sport or another activity involving falls, physical impacts, or a lot of motion with the wrists


While it isn’t always possible to prevent injuries such as falls, you can protect your wrists and prevent wrist pain by:

  • Wearing appropriate protective devices during work and sports activities
  • If you play a sport, work a job, or enjoy an activity that requires repetitive motion with your wrists, being mindful of any pain that arises and taking steps to mitigate it as soon as possible
  • Making sure you have the proper training for sports and activities
  • Avoiding overtraining or pushing through an injury
  • Using proper form when engaging in activities

Physical and occupational therapy are often helpful in preventing future wrist problems. At Dignity Health, our therapists can help you strengthen and protect your wrist during sports, work, and other daily activities.

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.