Hand Problems and Pain

Regardless of your age or how you spend your time, you’re almost always using your hands. Brushing your teeth, sending an email, driving—you use your hands to perform countless tasks throughout the day. So when there’s something wrong with them, it can seriously interfere with daily living.

The hand is a complex structure made up of many different bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves. Together, they allow for a great deal of movement, dexterity and sensation:

With all these different components, however many common hand problems can affect your ability to function, including:

  • Arthritis: Joint inflammation that can be very painful. Osteoarthritis is one of the most common forms of arthritis in the hands, where it usually develops in the base of the thumb, at the end joint closest to the fingertip, or at the middle joint of a finger. Other forms of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma and gout, can also affect the hands.
  • Nerve-related hand problems: When any of the nerves in the hand are damaged—as a result of trauma or nerve compression, for example—it can result in pain, numbness and tingling, and loss of sensation and dexterity. Some common nerve-related hand problems are:
    • Carpal tunnel syndrome: The median nerve is compressed as it passes through the carpal tunnel in the wrist, a narrow, confined space, causing pain, weakness, numbness and tingling
    • Cubital tunnel syndrome: The ulnar nerve is stretched, compressed or irritated where it crosses the elbow—a spot often referred to as the “funny bone”
    • Brachial plexus injury: This occurs when the nerves that send signals from your spinal cord to your shoulder, arm and hand are stretched, compressed or ripped away
  • Tendon problems: Two major problems affecting tendons are tendonitis (inflammation of a tendon) and tenosynovitis (inflammation of the lining of the tendon sheaths), causing tenderness, swelling and pain. Learn more about tendonitis and tenosynovitis. Common tendon disorders affecting the hand or upper extremity include:
    • Lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow): Damage to the tendons that bend the wrist away from the palm causes pain in the back side of the elbow and forearm, along the thumb side
    • Medial epicondylitis (golfer's or baseball elbow): Damage to the tendons that bend the wrist toward the palm causes pain from the elbow to the wrist on the palm side of the forearm
    • Rotator cuff tendonitis: A painful shoulder disorder characterized by the inflammation of the shoulder capsule and related tendons
    • DeQuervain's tenosynovitis: The most common type of tenosynovitis disorder, characterized by the tendon sheath swelling in the thumb
    • Trigger finger/trigger thumb: A tenosynovitis condition in which the tendon sheath becomes inflamed and thickened, preventing the smooth extension or flexion of the finger/thumb. The finger/thumb may suddenly lock or "trigger.”
  • Dupuytren’s contracture: A thickening of the tissue at the base of the fingers caused by collagen buildup under the skin; it can cause one or more fingers to curl toward the palm
  • Ganglion cysts: Soft, fluid-filled cysts that can develop on the front or back of the hand; they are the most common, benign (noncancerous) soft-tissue tumor of the hand and wrist

Left untreated, hand problems may result in persistent pain or weakness, permanent nerve damage, muscle atrophy or impaired function. That’s why it’s important to see a hand specialist for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment when symptoms appear and interfere with your ability perform daily activities.

Why Choose Cooper to Diagnose and Treat Hand Problems and Pain

Cooper University Health Care has a team of four fellowship-trained and board-certified or -eligible orthopaedic hand surgeons who provide advanced care for conditions of the hand, wrist, and elbow, and perform exacting repairs to the hand's nerves and vascular system. You can count on us for:

  • Thorough, accurate diagnosis: While many hand conditions can be diagnosed by physical exam, in some cases more advanced testing may be appropriate. Cooper offers state-of-the-art diagnostic technology, including:
    • Musculoskeletal ultrasound (MSK-US): Cooper is one of the few centers in the region to offer this sophisticated, non-invasive test
    • Nerve-conduction testing and electromyogram (EMG): Tests to precisely measure nerve damage
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Because MRI shows soft tissue as well as bone, it is useful for diagnosing injuries to cartilage, tendons and ligaments
  • Personalized treatment: Treatment for hand problems is tailored to the specific condition and its severity, and may include conservative measures such as rest and ice packs as well as:
    • Splinting or bracing to immobilize an affected area
    • Anti-inflammatory medication to reduce pain and swelling
    • Hand therapy that may include stretching and strengthening exercises supervised by our certified hand therapist
    • Surgery: Cooper’s hand surgeons are certified in minimally invasive and endoscopic techniques, and most procedures can be performed using a minimally invasive approach
  • Unrivalled expertise in nerve-related hand issues: Because of our hand surgeons’ advanced expertise in nerve reconstruction, Cooper is a regional referral center for repairing these complex injuries
  • Leading-edge research: Cooper’s hand surgeons are involved in academic research on a range of conditions, ensuring that our patients benefit from the latest knowledge and treatment advances 

Causes and Risk Factors for Hand Problems and Pain

While the cause of a hand problem depends on the specific condition you have, there are several factors that may put you at higher risk of developing hand problems and pain:

  • Participating in work or sports that require repetitive hand and wrist movements
  • Not enough warm up before or rest during these activities
  • Inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis or scleroderma
  • Diabetes and other nerve-damaging conditions
  • Improper technique when playing certain sports
  • Poorly fitting equipment
  • Obesity
  • Using or working with vibrating equipment
  • Weak shoulder and wrist muscles
  • Family history of certain hand problems

Symptoms of Hand Problems and Pain

Obviously, pain is a major symptom of most hand problems, but you may also experience:

  • Numbness or loss of sensation
  • A pins-and-needles tingling sensation
  • Stiffness
  • Weak grip
  • Loss of dexterity or range of motion
  • Tenderness
  • Swelling

Preventing Hand Problems and Pain

The most effective ways to prevent hand problems include:

  • Do strengthening and stretching exercises, particularly for your hands and wrists
  • Warm up before exercising or using your arms for sports or other repetitive movements
  • Know when to take breaks and rest
  • In sports, make sure you’re using the proper technique and that your equipment is right for you
  • Lift properly
  • Watch your posture—Poor posture can compress nerves in your neck, which can affect your wrists, fingers and hands
  • Avoid sleeping with your elbows bent

Contact Us

To learn more about the services available for treating hand problems and pain at Cooper or to request an appointment, please call 1.800.8.COOPER (1.800.826.6737).

Refer a Patient

If you are a doctor who wants to refer a patient to Cooper for a hand problem or hand pain, please call 1.800.826.6737.