Common Causes of Pain in the Hands

Anna Fyodorova Physical Therapist Brooklyn, NY

Dr. Anna Fyodorova, MS, PT, DPT, MBA of TRI Physical Therapy in Brooklyn, loved playing sports from an early age. So, when it came time to choose a college path, physical therapy seemed like the perfect fit. It combines her love for science and medicine with her love for sports. Physical therapist Dr. Fyodorova attended... more

Pain in the hands is one of the most common causes that leads people to the rheumatologist office. Our hands are a very thin mechanism, but at the same time, they are capable of withstanding enormous loads. However, some diseases can practically immobilize our hands and cause severe pain in the hand joints. 

Arthralgia is the scientific name for joint pain and it doesn’t simply impair the quality of life. It deprives a person of the opportunity to work and perform basic household activities. There are many diseases that can cause this symptom. The reasons can be divided into two main groups - inflammatory and mechanical. 

Pain in the hands caused by inflammation is usually accompanied by stiffness in the area of ​​the affected joint and decreased movement. As a rule, there are other symptoms in addition to inflammation - swelling or redness of the skin over the joint. Mechanical pain causes general pain during movement. This pain in the hand joints is not usually accompanied by stiffness or numbness.

The Most Common Causes of Pain in the Hand Joints

Joint pain is a frequent companion of many diseases. The nature of the pain sometimes helps the doctor determine which particular disease the patient suffers from.

Rheumatoid arthritis

This is an autoimmune disease in which the body's defense system malfunctions and begins to perceive its own cells as foreign. As a result, the joint begins to gradually break down. Inflammation and severe pain arise in the affected area. Rheumatoid arthritis can occur at any age between 25-30 years old. It usually develops symmetrically - the same joints on both hands are affected. Over time, the joints become deformed, which entails the curvature of the fingers and loss of mobility.


The accumulation of uric acid crystals and its derivatives can lead to gout in the joints. It is also called “meat-eater disease”, as it often develops in people who eat too much meat. Gout causes very strong pains in the joints of the legs, but as the disease progresses, the hands also begin to suffer. Characteristic gout bumps form around the affected joints. The burning and throbbing pain are especially strong at night and by morning it subsides a little.


Osteoarthritis occurs as a result of articular cartilage wear. As a rule, this disease begins to develop in older people. In hand osteoarthritis, pain is noticed in the small joints of the hands, the joint of the thumb, in the elbow and shoulder joints. Symptoms of osteoarthritis in the wrist joint include pain during physical loads, painful sensitivity when touching the damaged joint, and limited mobility.


Arthritis is caused by infectious diseases that cause joint inflammation, and is a very common disease. There are two forms of arthritis: 

  • acute arthritis - characterized by severe pain, swelling, and reddening of the skin in the area of ​​the joint, and fever
  • chronic arthritis - occasionally stirs pain.

Treatment of Pain in the Hand Joints

Severe pain in the joints of the hands is a big problem for a patient who loses the ability to work normally and perform the most basic movements. For example, he or she cannot fasten buttons or hold a fork. Hands therapy, regardless of the cause, should be aimed at solving three problems at once:

  • the treatment of the underlying disease.
  • restoration of hand functions.
  • the reduction of pain. 

Of course, treatment depends on the nature of the disease. But pain relief and functional development of the hand during rehabilitation follow the general rules. The main remedy for relieving pain in the hand joints is medicine. The largest and most frequently used group of drugs that have an anesthetic effect are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. They relieve inflammation and pain. But they have many unpleasant side effects, in particular, for the gastrointestinal tract. 

Glucocorticosteroid hormones are used to relieve pain caused by autoimmune diseases (for example, rheumatoid arthritis). They have a strong anti-inflammatory effect and bring relief quickly. Medical ointments can enhance the effect of drugs, as they include anti-inflammatory and anesthetic components. As part of the therapy - or in cases where treatment with medications is contraindicated - the doctor may prescribe non-drug methods.