How Is Hand Pain Treated?
Hand pain treatment depends on the type of condition you have and its severity. However, there are many aspects in common in the treatment protocols. Thus, instead of going through the treatments available for each diagnosis one by one, we will give you a list of treatment options available for you and their applications in different ailments.
The most common treatments for hand pain include:
- Bracing and splinting: Immobilization is important to reduce the damage to the articulations and release pressure on the affected nerves. Thus, bracing and splinting are recommended for carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, overuse injuries, and traumatic injuries of the hand. It involves wrapping the arms and reducing the mobility of the articulation, which reduces muscle strain and provides stability to the affected joint. Wearing braces and splinting for a very long period may weaken the muscles of the arm and forearm. Thus, it is often recommended at night and when the pain is acute or very severe. In trauma, bracing and splinting are required for a limited period while the injury heals.
- Oral medications: There are plenty of oral medicines for hand pain. The most common are over-the-counter painkillers that reduce inflammation and treat hand pain. They can also reduce swelling and other uncomfortable symptoms associated with hand pain. Oral over-the-counter medications are helpful in almost all cases of hand pain, except carpal tunnel syndrome, which does not respond to anti-inflammatory medications. In rheumatoid arthritis and other types of arthritis, patients may also need additional medications known as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs. They include methotrexate and hydroxychloroquine and are prescribed for each patient individually, depending on their needs.
- Steroid injections: Various intra-articular injections may improve hand pain in various ways. The most common are corticosteroid injections to relieve inflammation and pain in these patients. This type of treatment is only recommended when oral medications and other measures fail to provide lasting pain relief. They can be recommended for carpal tunnel syndrome and different kinds of arthritis. After applying steroid injections, pain improves for a more extended period, usually a few months. You may need other steroid injection applications after this time. However, doctors should be careful in cases of chronic disease because repeated steroid injections may weaken ligaments and tendons in the articulation.
- Rest: Rest is essential for recovery, especially if you have an overuse injury or a lesion after trauma. It is also required in patients with carpal tunnel syndrome. The specific rest recommendations depend on the severity of pain and the nature of your disease. Chronic problems may require more time to achieve a more complete recovery. In acute problems, rest may involve a few weeks and require splinting or bracing. In some cases, patients are recommended to alternate between rest periods and physical activity to reduce pain sensation. This is particularly the case in arthritis, which causes stiffness when the articulation is immobilized for too long.
- Activity modification: This is an essential recommendation in almost every case of hand pain. Doctors will probably give you a list of activity modifications you should follow to recover faster. For instance, if you work with your hands in an office, ergonomic changes in your desk and chair can improve your symptoms and prevent future episodes of hand pain. If you perform repetitive motions with your wrists as a part of your job, activity modifications may include alternating these motions with other activities to avoid taxing the articulation too much. In some cases, obesity and sedentary behavior affect hand pain, and patients are recommended to exercise and lose weight.
- Physical therapy: Strengthening and stretching exercises are sometimes recommended to reduce hand pain and improve muscle function. They are particularly important in cases of degenerative disease, especially arthritis of the hands. A therapist will guide you through the process of choosing which stretches, and strengthening exercises are good for you. It is essential to follow the instructions of a healthcare professional in this particular because some ailments require total rest of the articulation until it heals. In contrast, others will benefit from a variety of stretching exercises. In carpal tunnel syndrome, nerve glide exercises and carpal bone mobilization are examples of physical therapy that benefit some patients. However, the evidence is limited in these cases.
- Surgery: When the disease is more severe, conservative treatments are no longer useful. They provide limited pain relief, and patients may ultimately require surgical treatment. Surgery techniques depend on the type of ailment. In carpal tunnel syndrome, the main goal is releasing the nerve from a narrow carpal tunnel. To do this, doctors can use endoscopic or open surgeries, which are equally effective, but the former has a faster recovery rate. In arthritis, there are many goals depending on what is happening inside the articulation. Patients may benefit from a joint fusion or arthrodesis, a joint replacement or arthroplasty, or a tendon transfer when the inflammation in arthritis causes tendon ruptures. Similarly, surgical treatments can be required for healing if you experience severe trauma in your hand.
- Additional recommendations: Other treatments are not considered medical treatments, but doctors still recommend them as supplemental measures to reduce pain. One of the most common is ice and heat therapy, which improves pain symptoms and reduces swelling of the wrists and the hands. When applying ice, it is essential to wrap it with a towel to minimize skin irritation and prevent frostbite. Ice is more effective when inflammation is the main symptom. Compared to that, heat therapy can be helpful when pain is accompanied by stiffness and muscle tension. In such cases, it is essential to avoid very high temperatures.
The different treatment options mentioned above can all be beneficial for hand pain. However, not all of them should be used on the same patient. In some cases, it would be counterintuitive to do so. For instance, strengthening exercises won’t be recommended if you have a piercing trauma that cuts through the tendons in your hands.
Thus, instead of using this list as a series of options you’re willing to try, we recommend visiting your doctor and getting a diagnosis and recommended treatment adapted to you. Remember that medicine is a vast field, and not all medications and procedures work for everybody. Stay on the safe side and visit your doctor if your pain is continuous, difficult to treat with over-the-counter medications, or associated with trauma.