Here we explain the common and less common causes of wrist pain by specific location or area.
Select the location or type of wrist pain:
Dorsal wrist pain (back)
This is pain located at the back of the wrist and is subdivided into radial (thumb side), central and Ulnar (little finger side) zones.
Click on the location of pain:
The dorsal radial zone is the area of the wrist near the thumb over the palm side.
- Extensor carpi radialis tenosynovitis – inflammation of the sheath surrounding the tendon.
- DeQuervain’s tenosynovitis – inflammation of the sheath that surrounds two tendons in the wrist at the base of the thumb.
- Scaphoid fracture – a fracture to the carpal bone in the wrist called the Scaphoid.
- Distal radius fracture (Colles fracture) – a fracture of the end of the radius bone in the forearm.
- Intersection syndrome
- Anterior interosseous nerve compression/syndrome
- Radial nerve compression
- Extensor pollucis longus impingement
- Lister’s tubercle
Important not to miss:
- Carpal dislocation – dislocation of any of the small bones which make up the wrist.
- Radial epiphyseal stress reaction – an overuse injury affecting the growth plate of the radius bone. This is more likely to affect young athletes.
Central zone wrist pain
The dorsal central zone is the middle area of the back of the wrist.
- Posterior interosseous/radial nerve entrapment
- Ganglion cyst – a ganglion cyst or wrist ganglion is a small lump that appears in the wrist and is often attached to a ligament.
- Scapholunate ligament sprain – wrist sprain affecting the ligament between the scaphoid bone and lunate bones.
- Impingement syndromes
Important not to miss:
- Scapholunate dislocation – this is dislocation of the scaphoid bone where it connects to the lunate bone.
- Perilunar dislocation
- Kienbocks disease
Ulnar zone wrist pain
The dorsal ulnar zone is the area of the wrist on the inside near the little finger.
- Extensor carpi ulnaris tenosynovitis – inflammation of the tendon sheath.
- TFCC tear – a tear of the triangular fibrocartilage complex found in the wrist.
- Ulnar styloid fracture
- Triqeutral fracture
- Distal radioulnar joint instability
- Ulnar fracture
- Luno-triquetral ligament sprain
- Extensor carpi ulnaris subluxation
Volar wrist pain (front)
This is pain on the inside, or underside, of the wrist. Wrist pain in these locations can also be divided into radial (thumb side), central and Ulnar (little finger side) zones.
Click on the area to view injuries:
The volar-radial zone is the front/inside of the wrist on the thumb side.
- Carpo-metacarpal osteoarthritis
- Flexor carpi radialis tendinopathy
Important not to miss:
- Carpal instability
The volar central zone is the inside middle of the wrist.
- Pisotriquetral degenerative joint disease
The volar ulnar zone is the front/inside of the wrist on the little finger side.
Acute wrist injuries
Sudden onset injuries or acute injuries include wrist fractures, sprains, strains, and contusions.
Wrist fractures – (broken wrist) is a fracture or break of either the radius and/or ulna forearm bones. Or any of the smaller carpal bones in the wrist. There are a number of different types of wrist fractures, so an accurate diagnosis is essential.
Wrist strain – is often a general term used to describe pain in the wrist. Strictly speaking, a strain is a tear of a tendon which attaches muscle to bone. Wrist strains can occur suddenly, or develop gradually through overuse.
Wrist sprain – is an injury to any of the ligaments which connect bone to bone in the wrist. It is a common wrist injury, usually caused by a significant impact like a fall. There are different grades of a sprain, depending on their severity.
TFCC tear – is an injury to the triangular fibrocartilage complex, found in the wrist, between the end of the ulna bone and the carpals. A tear can be caused by a specific incident or come on gradually, resulting in wrist pain and restricted wrist and hand function. This wrist injury can often be treated with a splint, although if it is too severe, surgery may be needed.
- View all acute wrist injuries
Chronic wrist pain
Gradual onset injuries or chronic injuries occur over a period of time and often cannot be traced back to a single incident or cause.
Wrist tendonitis – is inflammation, or more likely degeneration, of any of the flexor or extensor tendons which cross the wrist joint. Repetitive movement and overuse can cause stiffness and pain in the wrist, and there can also be swelling. Sports and repetitive work are common causes of tendonitis.
Carpal tunnel syndrome – is a common cause of wrist pain. A dull ache is felt in the wrist and forearm with pain which may radiate into the hand and fingers. It is often worse at night and a tingling sensation can be felt. We explain the symptoms, causes, and treatment including exercises and surgery.
Distal radial epiphyseal injury – A distal radial epiphysis injury is an injury to the growth plate at the wrist end of the radius bone in the forearm. It mostly affects young athletes and is most often caused by overuse.
Ganglion cyst – or wrist ganglion is a small lump which appears in the wrist, often attached to a ligament. The size of the cyst and the severity of the wrist pain varies from person to person. Some ganglions are not painful so can be left, but others can hinder movement and cause pain, so may require treatment. Read more about the causes, symptoms and possible treatments for ganglions.
Wrist bursitis – a bursa is a small sack of fluid that lubricates where tendons move in joints, of which there are two in the wrist. If a bursa is subjected to repeated trauma or friction then it can become inflamed and swollen, causing wrist pain. Although the pain can be severe, wrist bursitis can often go away with rest, ice and compression, without the need for any major treatment.
- View all chronic wrist injuries