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Wrist, hand and finger pain

Wrist, hand and finger pain is very common. Although pain in each of these areas can be very uncomfortable it is rarely serious. For many people pain will normally resolve within 6-12 weeks without any treatment.


Common causes

A number of factors have been associated with wrist, hand and finger pain. These include:

  • A sprain/strain or a fall onto your wrist or hand.
  • A sudden increase or decrease in your normal activity or exercise levels.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Nerve irritation - pain travelling from the neck into the hand.
  • Carpel tunnel syndrome – nerve pain affecting the hand.
  • De Quervain’s tenosynovitis – pain and swelling in the tendons of the thumb.
  • Other conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia.
  • Following a period of increased stress, worry or low mood.
  • Following a period of poor sleep, fatigue or feeling run down.
  • Other lifestyle factors such as being overweight and smoking.
  • A flare up of longstanding wrist, hand or finger pain.


Common symptoms

These include:

  • Pain in the wrist, hand or fingers
  • Stiffness
  • Reduced grip strength
  • Swelling
  • Misshapen finger joints
  • Tingling and or numbness in the hand, fingers and or thumb
  • Difficulty straightening your finger or thumb

You may experience constant or intermittent (comes and goes) symptoms that are aggravated by certain activities and reduced by others.


What can I do to help it?

  • In the first few days after an onset of pain, changing or reducing your usual activities may help. However, there is strong evidence that keeping active and gradually returning to all your usual activities and exercise will help you recover.
  • It is normal to experience some pain during your recovery, but it does not mean you are damaging your wrist, hand or fingers.
  • Try to stay at work or return as soon as you are able. Your employer, GP or health practitioner will be able to advise on how to return to your normal work duties.

Try some of these self-help tips to aid your recovery:

  • Apply a heat or icepack to the painful area – for up to 15 minutes. Never apply heat or ice directly to the skin.
  • A short course of simple pain medication as advised by your pharmacist or GP may help reduce pain and allow you to move more comfortably.
  • Keep moving. Regular movement and exercise is safe and helpful for your pain. It is important to build up gradually – the exercise or activity you enjoy most, is likely to help your recovery.
  • Good sleep habits and managing stress may help you cope better with your pain.


Facts about wrist, hand and finger pain

  • Wrist, hand and finger pain is common without any damage to the joints.
  • X-rays and scans often DO NOT show the cause of your pain.
  • Movement and exercise is NOT harmful for the wrist, hand or fingers.
  • Your wrist, hand and fingers can become stronger and healthier with regular movement and exercise.
  • Improving your sleep and general health is all also important for your pain.


When should I seek medical advice?

Call your GP surgery if

  • Your pain is getting worse.
  • You have tried the self-help tips for 3-4 weeks and the symptoms have not improved.
  • You are suddenly unable to straighten your finger or thumb.
  • You have pain, tingling and numbness in one or both hands that is waking you at night and/or affecting your grip.
  • You have pain and morning stiffness in your fingers and/or wrists which takes more than 30 minutes to settle.


Seek immediate medical advice if

  • After a fall or injury
    • Your wrist, hand or fingers are misshapen
    • You are unable to move your wrist, hand or fingers
  • You have a sudden loss of power and/or feeling in one or both arms and/or hands.
  • Your wrist or fingers are hot, red, swollen and painful.


Do I need an X-Ray or scan?

  • X-rays or scans or are NOT usually required to diagnose wrist, hand or finger pain.
  • X-rays or scans are NOT able to tell us how much pain you are experiencing.
  • X-rays and scans often show joint narrowing and osteoarthritis which are common in people WITHOUT wrist, hand or finger pain. These findings are unlikely to change the way you manage your pain.
  • X-rays and scans are best used where a serious injury (e.g., a broken bone) or conditions such as cancer or infection are suspected.


Do I need a fit note?

If you’re off work sick for seven days or less, your employer will normally ask you to complete a self-certificate for sick leave as soon as you return to work.

If you're off work sick for more than seven days your employer will normally ask for a fit note (or Statement of Fitness for Work) from your GP or hospital doctor.

You can read more information here


Useful websites and resources:

British Society for Surgery of the Hand:

What should you know about joint health? What Should You Know About Joint Health? - Body Logic - Treating Arthritis

Click here to watch a video on Ganglion Cysts:

Click here to watch a video on Carpal Tunnel Syndrome:



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