Wrist & arm pain

Updated July 19, 2017

Wrist, hand and arm injuries are one of the most common reasons to visit a doctor for musculoskeletal problems. The wrist is the part of your body that is used the most on any given day, so it should be no surprise that it is prone to injuries. Injuries of the wrist and arm can include a ligament sprain or tear, tendinitis, fractures, repetitive stress injury, carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis. If you have swelling or pain that lasts for more than a few days, you should see your doctor for a diagnosis and treatment.

Ligament Sprain or Tear

Ligaments are made up of many different fibres all of which can be damaged or torn. The more severe an injury, the more damage there is to the fibres. A ligament sprain or tear means there has been an injury to a ligament.

Symptoms of a ligament sprain or tear include pain, swelling and the inability to use your wrist or elbow. Typically, you will hear a clicking sound upon movement of the wrist. The most common cause of a ligament sprain or tear is an injury such as a fall that causes you to land on your wrist or hand.

According to the Mayo Clinic, treatment involves splinting for three to six weeks.


Tendinitis occurs when tendons become irritated. Tendons attach muscle to bone. The usual symptoms of tendinitis are pain and swelling. Treatment includes rest, application of ice to the afflicted area and ibuprofen for pain.


A fracture is a broken bone. Fractures are common in the wrist and hand because the bones are very small, but can also occur in the arm or elbow area. Symptoms of a fracture include swelling, skin discolouration, inability to move,and possibly a crooked wrist, depending upon where the fracture is located.

Treatment includes casting for six weeks to three months. Surgery is also an option in some cases. For example, your doctor may insert a screw to hold the broken bone together.

Repetitive Stress Injury

A repetitive stress injury is common in anyone who performs repeating motions with her wrists and hands. Symptoms include pain, inflammation and the inability to move your wrist.

Treatment includes splinting while you sleep, ibuprofenfor pain and inflammation and possibly corticosteroid injections into the inflamed area.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve is compressed. The median nerve is located in the area of the wrist called the carpal tunnel. Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include numbness in hand or fingers, pain that goes either up into the arm or down into the fingers, weakness and loss of feeling in your fingers.

Treatment includes specialised splints to be worn during the day and, in severe cases, surgery.


There are two types of arthritis that commonly affect the wrist and arm: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

In osteoarthritis , a breakdown in the cartilage occurs, leaving bone to rub on bone. Symptoms of osteoarthritis include joint pain, swelling, stiffness and lack of motion. Treatment depends upon the severity and may include heat or ice, ibuprofen and physiotherapy. For severe cases surgery may be necessary.

Rheumatoid arthritis can affect the entire body. Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include joint pain, swelling, joint deformity and overall fatigue. It may be triggered by an infection. Depending upon the severity and the progression of the disease your doctor will prescribe medications that will help with pain and inflammation.

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About the Author

Michele A. Clarke has been a writer for over 30 years. She enjoys writing articles on health care. She has a bachelors degree from the University of Albany in Biology and Sociology. She has worked for many years as a grant writer and health care consultant. Michele has written a wide variety of e-books and is working on her first novel.