Problems with the wrist, hand, and fingers are common. They can be caused by simple things, like carrying out repetitive tasks, an injury during sport or a fall. As you get older, normal wear and tear can cause your problem to flare-up now and again, often for no reason.
Should I rest or move?
For the first 24 to 48 hours
- Try to rest your wrist, hand or fingers but avoid long spells of not moving at all.
- Try to move your wrist, hand or fingers gently for 10 to 20 seconds every hour when awake.
After 48 hours
- You should try to use your wrist, hand or fingers more.
- Do whatever you normally would and stay at or return to work. This is important and is the best way to get better.
- Avoid sports or heavy lifting until you have less discomfort and good movement.
- Exercise really helps your wrist, hand or fingers and can relieve pain.
Should I take painkillers?
- Painkillers can help you keep moving. However, it is important that if you are already taking medication for something else or have other health problems you check with the pharmacist at your local chemist before taking painkillers for your wrist, hand or finger problem.
- You can use simple, over-the-counter painkillers (such as paracetamol) or anti-inflammatory medicines (such as ibuprofen) to help your pain. You can take both these medicines together.
- Always follow the instructions on the packet.
- You can only take two 500mg paracetamol every four to six hours, and no more than eight 500mg paracetamol in 24 hours. You should not take any more than this amount.
- You can only take three 400mg ibuprofen a day. You should not take ibuprofen if you have stomach problems such as ulcers, have had a previous allergic reaction to ibuprofen or an injury in the last 48 hours. Always take ibuprofen with or just after food. Don’t take ibuprofen if you are pregnant.
- If you have asthma, ibuprofen may make it worse, but if you have taken it before with no problems then you can safely take it again. If you are not sure, speak to your pharmacist.
- Take them regularly, not just when you are sore, for the next three to four days only.
- If you feel you still need pain relief after four days then speak to your pharmacist for advice.
Should I use ice or a heat pad?
- If you have had an injury or a flare-up of an old problem in the last two days, wrap crushed ice in a damp towel and hold it for five to ten minutes against the part of your wrist, hand or finger that hurts. You can do this every two to three hours. Make sure you use a damp towel between the ice and the skin to avoid ice burn.
- Alternatively, you could try sports sprays and gel packs, which do a similar job.
- After two days, you may find that heat is more relaxing. You could use a heat pad or a hot water bottle with an insulated cover on it. Make sure this is not too hot and not directly touching your skin. You should this for 10 to 15 minutes, three to four times a day.
You will recover faster and everybody will benefit if you can stay at or get back to work as early as possible. Don’t worry if your wrist, hand or fingers still hurt, as you may only have to do light work at first. Try to stay active and remember to keep moving. Speak to your manager about any concerns you may have.
You should take time before you take part in any sports after a wrist, hand or finger problem. If you take part in sports too soon you could flare things up again. You should have no swelling and have full movement of your elbow. You should have full or close to full strength. Remember to stretch and warm up fully before sports.
Can my wrist, hand or finger problem cause trouble anywhere else?
- You may feel pain and stiffness in your forearm. This should improve, as your problem gets better.
- Numbness, burning or tingling sensation in your hand and fingers may be felt. You should discuss these with your doctor if they do not settle in six weeks.
Do I need to see my doctor?
Not normally. If you follow the right advice and take the right medication, your wrist, hand or finger problem should improve over the next six weeks.
If you experience a sudden onset of any of the following you need to attend A&E or contact NHS111 as soon as possible.
- Pain or stiffness in your hand that takes more than 30 minutes to settle in the morning.
- Unable to move your wrist, hand or fingers.
- Your wrist, hand and fingers are swollen or hot or mishapen.
- Pain that gets worse and worse.
- Your wrist, hand or finger problem has not improved within six weeks.
If your condition progressively worsens or persists for longer than 6 weeks you need to seek further medical advice.