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Arthritis or carpal tunnel? What to do about hand, wrist pain

Posted on May. 13, 2015 ( comments)
Hand pain

We rely on our hands for so many daily activities, from working to driving to cooking. Hand pain stemming from arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome or other causes can be very debilitating if not treated. Fortunately, there are many treatments available.


Arthritis is a very common cause of hand and wrist pain, says Ryan Riel, MD, a MultiCare orthopedic surgeon specializing in hand issues.  “People can try to manage symptoms through resting and taking over the counter anti-inflammatory medication.  If symptoms persist, they usually come in.”

“Arthritis is more common in women over 50 and men 65 and up,” says Ian Lawson, MD, a MultiCare orthopedic surgeon and hand specialist.   “It tends be inherited. “ Symptoms include pain at the base of the thumbs or tops of fingers.

That’s where Anne Kerr, an executive assistant in her 50s, first started feeling the pain — at the base of her thumb and circling up through her palm.

“It was very annoying and really noticeable when I tried to squeeze or grip anything," she says. "I went to see Dr. Lawson and he did an X-ray in the office.  In a matter of minutes, he told me it was arthritis. I was thinking carpal tunnel.”

“These are small joints but they can be quite painful,” says Dr. Lawson. “There are many options to consider — injections, bracing, creams, all the way up to small joint replacement and reconstruction. “

“We try to treat conditions conservatively at first. If surgery is called for, it will involve several weeks or months of hand therapy to regain full function,” says Dr. Riel. “People are thrilled to get their full function back.”

Kerr now wears a removable hand brace during the day, which is helping. While she still has pain, it is manageable.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Wrist pain is less common than hand pain, according to Dr. Lawson.  “It tends to occur with younger people who do production work that requires repetitive motions.”

"There are some myths about carpal tunnel,” says Dr. Riel. “Carpal tunnel syndrome is due to a number of factors, and is not necessarily related to typing/keyboarding.”

Symptoms include numbness, pain and loss of motion .  The pain can even interfere with sleeping at night. “We can usually diagnose from taking a history, doing an x-ray or nerve conduction studies,” says Dr. Lawson.  “In some instances, an MRI may be required.”

Carpal tunnel can be treated with splints, cortisone shots or anti-inflammatory medicines. “If surgery is required — carpal tunnel release is a quick, simple and successful surgery,” says Dr. Lawson. “After this surgery you can do most things right away, which makes people very happy. “

If hand or wrist pain is interfering with your daily life, consider consulting an orthopedic surgeon who is a hand specialist so you can understand the treatment options that best fit your needs. Learn more about MultiCare Orthopedics & Sports Medicine's hand, arm and wrist expertise.

About The Author

Jean Jackman

Jean is our former vice president of marketing, She has written hundreds of articles and book reviews for newspapers in Washington, Michigan and Oregon.

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