5 Common Causes of Wrist Pain: Gout, Tendonitis, Arthritis, etc.

Wrist pain affects many people and is often listed as a chief complaint when visiting a physician or physical therapist. While there is no such thing as a “wrist doctor,” a physical therapist can help you manage your pain, avoid surgery, and return to normal activity. Just a little swelling, stiffness, or discomfort of the wrist can impact someone’s ability to play sports, do their job effectively, or even complete routine tasks. In its most severe form, wrist pain may make it difficult to perform what medical professionals call “activities of daily living” (ADL) like bathing, getting dressed, or getting in and out of a chair. So, what causes wrist pain? Below we explain in more detail 5 of the most common causes of wrist pain.


A Common Cause of Wrist Pain: Arthritis in the Wrist

According to the Arthritis Foundation, arthritis is not a single disease, but an informal way of referring to joint pain or joint disease. Pain and inflammation of the joints can be caused by as many as 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and is the result of everyday wear and tear or overuse of a joint. As the cartilage that provides cushioning between our bones breaks down, the bones rub together, causing swelling and discomfort. Since the wrist contains many small bones that are designed to glide easily over each other during movement, a loss of cartilage in this area creates grinding and damage of the wrist bones.

“If you have arthritis, consider visiting a physical therapist. A physical therapist can show you how to do strengthening and stretching exercises that can help your wrist.”

AARP Healthtools

Gout in the Wrist

Gout is a type of arthritis that is caused by excess uric acid build-up in the joints. Most gout patients report swelling and discomfort in the foot or big toe. However, gout-related wrist pain can be a sign of polyarticular gout, or gout that affects multiple joints. Since this is less common, gout in the wrist can be difficult to recognize. If you have a history of gout and are also suffering from wrist pain, you should ask your physician about it during your next visit.

Gout that is isolated to the wrist is extremely rare, but pseudogout can affect large joints like the knee or wrist. If you have had multiple injuries to your wrist, or have problems with your thyroid or parathyroid, this may increase the chances of you experiencing pseudogout.

Nerve Pain in the Wrist

If you have hand or wrist weakness, shooting pain or tingling that extends from your wrist to your fingers, you may be experiencing nerve pain due to these conditions:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome is one of most widely recognized causes of nerve pain in the wrist. The median nerve, which provides feeling and control to parts of the hand becomes damaged due to compression of the nerve as it travels through the carpal tunnel. Prolonged use of vibrating hand tools, assembly-line work, or even recreational activities like racquetball or playing stringed instruments can apply pressure to the nerve and surrounding ligaments enough to cause pain.
  • Radial nerve injury may also cause weakness or difficulty moving your wrist, hand, or fingers. This nerve runs down the underside of your arm and can be injured after an arm fracture; long-term pressure on your arm or wrist; or even just from using crutches incorrectly.

“One of the simplest and most frequent pieces of advice for reducing the risk of permanent injury and pain from Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is to take regular breaks.”


Wrist Pain from Typing

Although carpal tunnel syndrome is three times more common among assembly line workers than among data-entry personnel, wrist pain from typing is still very common. Repetitive motion or repetitive strain injuries do not have to be the result of high impact movements like the swinging of a hammer. The small adjustments that we make to our hand and wrist position while typing or using a computer mouse during a typical workday, can cause shooting pain and potential disability in those that have to rely on computer work. Although the work itself may be unavoidable, this type of injury may be the most easily preventable because rest plays a large role, and there are a number of ergonomic solutions available for people that must use a computer for long periods of time.

Tendonitis in the Wrist

Wrist tendonitis is another common cause of wrist pain that is usually due to overuse of the hand or arm. De Quervain Syndrome is a painful condition which affects the tendons that run through a tunnel along the thumb side of the wrist. Mothers of young infants seem especially susceptible to this condition, possibly because of the constant action of picking up their child. Rotation or flexing of the wrist becomes painful, and lifting the thumb (in a hitchhiker position) is also uncomfortable.

“Physical therapists partner with patients, their families, and other healthcare professionals to manage pain, often reducing or eliminating the need for opioids.”

American Physical Therapy Association


Nerve, tendon or bone pain can be felt in the wrist in different ways. There are many overlaps between types of arthritis, repetitive motion or other injuries that cause wrist pain and discomfort. Consultation with a healthcare professional can help you determine the root cause of the writ pain and provide you with ways to reduce pain and improve wrist function. Pain management is becoming a very important topic because some of the most effective medications that help relieve pain are also dangerously addictive.  By researching your condition, and seeking the advice of your Physician or Physical Therapist, you may be able to avoid further damage to your wrist and manage your pain without medication.

Physical Therapists are particularly well equipped to provide you with solutions to help relieve your pain and help you regain strength and mobility. Physical Therapy is an excellent medication-free and surgery-free alternative for pain management! The therapists at Vigor Physical Therapy are here to answer any questions you may have about wrist pain. We care about you and your condition – contact us today!