Hand & Upper Extremity Symptoms

You are here


There are several causes of elbow pain. The most common cause is tendon inflammation, or tendonitis from overuse and repetitive use. Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow are two forms of elbow tendonitis that cause pain on the outer and inner bony prominences of the elbow. Pain inside the elbow can be caused by arthritis. Elbow arthritis can be genetic or result after a fracture or injury. Overtime, the cartilage wears down and bone spurs develop. This cause elbow pain inside the joint with stiffness and loss of motion. Another cause of elbow pain is cubital tunnel syndrome. This involves a pinched nerve that causes sensitivity over the nerve on the inner side of the elbow and can lead to numbness and weakness in the hand. Elbow pain after a trauma should be seen urgently to rule out a fracture. Throwing athletes with chronic elbow pain or pain after a new injury should be seen by an elbow specialist to rule out a serious ligament injury.



Stiff fingers can be caused from a variety of conditions. One of the most common causes is a “trigger finger” which is essentially a tendonitis of the flexor tendons. A trigger finger typically causes the affected finger to lock, or trigger, but can also cause pain and swelling. Stiff fingers with swollen joints can also occur with long standing “wear and tear” osteoarthritis or after an injury to the finger. Some medical condition such as rheumatoid arthritis can also lead to swelling and stiffness in the fingers. Dupuytren’s contracture is another condition that can lead to stiff fingers. It involves the development of abnormal cords of tissue in the palm of the hand which over time can cause the fingers to curl and lose their motion.



The hand is a common part of the body to develop little bumps or masses. The most common are ganglion cysts that develop in the wrist or the fingers. They are usually small collections of fluid that only require treatment when they cause pain or loss of function. There are other masses of the hand that can affect the tendons of the fingers or even grow in the palm. Although the majority of these hand masses are benign, patients with a mass, bump, or cyst should seek medical attention from a hand surgeon for a definitive diagnosis.



There are several conditions that affect the nerves of the upper extremity which can result in abnormal sensation in the hand and fingers. When a nerve is pinched or “compressed”, the nerve becomes irritated resulting in numbness and tingling of the hand. Some patients report burning pain that can awaken them from sleep or cramping when they use their hands. One of the most common is carpal tunnel syndrome which is caused by a pinched nerve at the wrist.

Another is cubital tunnel syndrome which is caused by a pinched nerve at the elbow. Numbness and tingling in the hand and upper extremity can be caused by a problem in the neck or even medical conditions such as diabetes. Thus, it is important to see your medical doctor or orthopaedic surgeon promptly for proper diagnosis and treatment.



A new injury, such as a fall onto an outstretched hand, typically results in immediate hand and wrist pain that is accompanied by swelling and bruising. In some cases, deformity of the wrist or fingers may also be present which can indicate a severe fracture or dislocation. Two of the most common fractures seen in the wrist are distal radius fractures and scaphoid fractures. Depending on the severity of the injury, immediate attention may be necessary. X-rays and sometimes CT scans are needed to rule out a “fracture”. If a fracture is ruled out, there still may be a serious soft tissue injury that requires treatment by a hand surgeon. Ligament injuries can range from minor wrist sprains to complete ruptures that require surgery. Hand injuries involving a laceration should be seen urgently because of the risk of infection. Lacerations can also lead to tendon injuries that require surgery.



“Chronic” or long standing hand and wrist pain can be caused by a variety of conditions. One of the most common is arthritis. These patients usually have a slower onset of pain that can be accompanied by stiffness and swelling. Another cause of hand and wrist pain is tendonitis. This can affect the fingers as well as the wrist and is usually the result of overuse or repetitive activities (DeQuervain’s Tendonitis, Trigger Fingers). Sometimes gout or even infections can occur in the hand and wrist. This can cause severe pain and swelling and requires urgent medical attention and sometimes surgery. Nerve compression such as carpal tunnel syndrome can also cause pain and burning in the palm and fingers.

Patients with severe pain or deformity from a new injury should be seen urgently to rule out a fracture or serious injury to a ligament or tendon in the wrist and hand.