Wrist Pain & Hand Injuries

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The most common wrist and hand injuries are wrist sprains and fractures (broken wrist or broken finger).  If you are playing sports that are predominantly lower leg sports (such as soccer and running), you can sometimes continue playing whilst the wrist/hand injury heals.  However, the injury must be correctly diagnosed initially and then sufficiently supported in a cast or splint.

Sudden onset wrist pain

Sudden onset injuries are called acute injuries and are usually caused by a fall onto the hand with an outstretched arm or a forced twisting movement. Damage can occur to the bones, ligaments (connect bone to bone) or tendons (connect muscle to bone) in the wrist.  In the first 72 hours, the first aid principles of P.R.I.C.E. are advised including protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation.  If a broken bone (fracture) is suspected, then always seek medical advice immediately.

Gradual onset wrist pain

Gradual onset injuries or chronic injures occur over a period of time and often cannot be traced back to a single incident or cause. The most common structure injured are the tendons of the wrist through over use or repetitive strain.

Hand and finger injuries

Injuries to the hand and fingers are common in sports and must be taken seriously.  Injuries in this area can be very debilitating and if treated incorrectly they can have long term consequences in terms of hand and finger function.

Should I see a doctor?

The majority of wrist and hand injuries, especially the minor ones, can be treated at home.  However, if you have any of the following symptoms you should seek further medical assistance.

  • Severe pain in the wrist, hand and fingers, especially after a fall.
  • Severe swelling (oedema) around the injured area.
  • An audible “crack” in the wrist, hand or fingers after a fall.
  • A feeling when the bone in the finger comes out of its joint (dislocates) – a common injury seen in goalkeepers and cricketers.  It is important that an x-ray is taken before relocating the bone to ensure there has been no associated fracture.
  • Altered sensation in the hand or fingers – such as a feeling of “pins and needles” (paresthesia) or a “loss of feeling” (anaesthesia) in the hand/fingers.
  • Unable to complete your normal daily activities after the initial 72 hours.

Further medical assistance can be sought through either your local GP or a private clinician such as a physiotherapist, sports therapist, osteopath or chiropractor. 

In the first instance, if you have followed the P.R.I.C.E. principles (see below) and are still unable to move the wrist/fingers after 24 hours or have severe pain that is not subsiding after the first 72 hours, you should visit your local A&E department for further assessment.  Also, if you suffer a suspected dislocated finger you should seek a professional medical opinion.
Secondly, if you have applied the P.R.I.C.E. principles and still have weakness that lasts a long time (more than 2 weeks) or ongoing discomfort in your hand or fingers, you are highly recommended to seek advice from a specialist expert - such as a physiotherapist, sports therapist, osteopath, or chiropractor - who can provide you with advice and an appropriate and effective recovery and rehabilitation program.

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Immediate First Aid for Wrist, Hand and Finger Injuries

All acute and chronic injuries should be treated using the P.R.I.C.E. therapy principles. This should be applied at home for at least the first 2 - 3 days. P.R.I.C.E. stands for Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.

  • Protection - Protect the injury from further damage. Where applicable, use of an arm sling or wrist support is recommended.
  • Rest - Refrain from using the wrist/hand.  However, this is one area, especially the fingers, which should not be rested too long as they will stiffen up and function will be lost quickly.  The length of rest period is guided by pain in the injured area.
  • Ice - The topical application of ice or cold therapy to the injured area can help minimise the symptoms of pain and inflammation.
  • Compression - The use of a compression support to the arm or wrist or hand can can help reduce swelling.
  • Elevation - Keeping the hand elevated above heart level whenever possible will assist in reducing swelling in the hand due to the effects of gravity.  This is a very important treatment principle as the hand and fingers swell very easily.  This is best achieved using an upper arm sling.

Read more on PRICE principles.

Wrist anatomy

The wrist joint is the complex joint formed between the distal ends (furthest from the body) of the Radius and Ulna (two forearm bones) and the carpal bones. It connects the forearm to the hand and allows a good range of motion. Repetitive use does however frequently lead to injuries.

Read more on wrist anatomy...