Causes of Severe Wrist Pain

The wrist is an amalgamation of many bones, joints, nerves, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels, all of which can be injured and produce pain. Pain is subjective, however, and is felt differently from person to person. Severe pain is generally in need of medical attention and pain medication. There are many common causes of severe wrist pain.

Bone Fractures

Up until the age of 75, fractures of the wrist are the most common bone fracture. Broken bones produce severe, stabbing pain because of the tearing of the nerve-dense bone covering called the periosteum. In addition, broken bone shards can tear surrounding tissues that are innervated such as ligaments, tendons, muscle, and skin. In the wrist, the scaphoid, hamate, lunate and the distal ends of the ulna and radius bones are most commonly fractured. Wrist fractures are caused by trauma—especially contact sports—but also from vehicular accidents, skate boarding and falls.

Nerve Damage

The three main nerves of the wrist can become damaged from fractures and sprains due to tearing and stretching, but the most common type of nerve damage in the wrist is from impingement. Carpal tunnel syndrome impinges and compresses the median nerve as it courses through the carpal bones because of excessive inflammation or scar tissue from repetitive trauma. Compression of the median nerve can cause severe, burning / electric pain, swelling, muscle weakness, and numbness in the wrist and hand. Wartenberg syndrome is compression of the lateral radial nerve and causes pain in the outer wrist and thumb. Wrist inflammation and scar tissue develop from trauma or repetitive motions such as typing, writing and playing the drums.

Moderate Ligament Damage

The most common wrist injury involves ligament damage, although the most severe damage—complete tears—often generate lesser pain than partial tears. This is because a partially attached or tethered ligament sends more pain signals to the brain than completely torn ones. Moderate ligament damage causes severe, sharp pain and can lead to instability of the carpal bones, or partial dislocation of the distal ulna and radius. Common causes include: athletic trauma such as gymnastics, bowling and rollerblading, falls and repetitive wrist movements.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

The most common and debilitating inflammatory arthritis is the rheumatoid form, which is a mysterious auto-immune disorder. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect the wrists and hands—usually bilaterally at the same time, and create severe throbbing pain during flare-ups. Its etiology is unknown, but it can also cause bone deformity in the wrists.

Avascular Necrosis

Avascular necrosis can be a complication of severe trauma, such as carpal bone fractures, and cause deep achy pain if the blood supply to a bone is disrupted. In the wrist, the scaphoid and the lunate bones are most susceptible to avascular necrosis, which is tissue death due to lack of oxygen and nutrients.

About this Author

Aironius French has been writing professionally since 1999, when he became a clinical chiropractic physician. His health-related articles have appeared in the newspapers \”Calgary Sun,\” \”Calgary Herald,\” \”Ajo Corridor Times\” and \”Rocky Point Times\” and in \”Penasco\” magazine. French holds a Bachelor of Science in physical anthropology and human development from the University of Calgary and a doctorate from the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College.