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I have never gone skiing, and don’t ever plan on doing so. Yet five months ago, an orthopedic surgeon informed me that I had skier’s thumb.
Apparently, when I’d slipped on some ice in December, I’d landed just like a good skier would, making my thumb go in a direction no thumb should ever go.
As a result, the ligament connecting my thumb to the rest of my hand was destroyed. I was in extreme and constant pain, and unable to grasp, lift, write or really do anything I needed to do with my right hand.
After surgery and eight weeks in casts and splints, I now have my hand back, minus a little flexibility and plus some occasional stiffness and aches.
But what if you’re dealing with hand pain that didn’t result from injury?
You’d probably want to know why your hands hurt and what you could do about it…
Amazing and complex machinery
Your hands are built from an intricate structure of bones, ligaments, and muscles that are extremely vulnerable to injuries and other conditions that can cause hand pain and rob them of function.
But outside of injury we seldom worry about things going wrong with our hands, until it might be impossible to avoid the daily pain of something like rheumatoid or osteoarthritis. But that’s not all that can affect the health of your hands…
The human hand is a complex machine composed of 27 bones, 34 muscles, and three nerves (median, ulnar and radial). Nine individual muscles are used just to control your thumb alone.
Your fingers themselves have no muscles. That’s right: you operate your fingers kind of by remote control since the muscles that bend your joints are located in the palm and forearm. They connect to your fingers via tendons that act like marionette strings, pulling your fingers into position.
As with any machine, the more complex it is, the more that can go wrong with it. Our hands are no different.
5 conditions that cause hand pain
So, if your hands are hurting you and you haven’t had an injury as I had, there are several other explanations for hand pain, and some things you can do to avoid worsening of the pain…
Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis (OA) is caused by loss of cartilage between the joints due to wear and tear. This causes bones to rub together (bone on bone) and nerves to become exposed. It can be extremely painful.
Early signs of osteoarthritis are pain and tenderness, stiffness, and bone spurs (an outgrowth of “extra” bone).
If you’re overweight, have diabetes or gout, you’re more likely to develop osteoarthritis.
Movement can help to relieve the pain and stiffness of joints, including squatting for knee joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is not the same as osteoarthritis. It is an autoimmune disorder and can run in families. Early warning signs include pain, redness, swelling, tenderness, and stiffness of the joints. Unlike with OA, rheumatoid arthritis tends to affect both sides of the body.
Recent research shows a connection between RA and gum disease, so good oral hygiene could be a preventive measure. You’ll find a few more helpful tips below.
Peripheral neuropathy. When the motor or sensory nerves of the hand are damaged, they can send pain signals when there is no pain, or deprive the hand of sensation. This can cause tingling, heaviness, pain, numbness and loss of strength in the hand.
Diabetes is the most common cause of peripheral neuropathy of the hand. Being overweight, smoking or having high blood pressure are also risk factors. Kidney disease and low thyroid hormone levels can also trigger neuropathy. So can anti-seizure and chemotherapy drugs.
Fish oil has been shown to help relieve this type of hand pain.
De Quervain’s tendinitis. Irritation of the wrist tendons at the base of the thumb causes pain and swelling on the thumb side of the wrist. Repetitive motion and hormonal changes can be responsible.
Dr. Michael Cutler has written about a novel shot therapy that may help this type of hand pain.
Trigger finger. With this one, you may feel as if something is “catching” when you try to bend a finger. In fact, what’s catching is a small knot in your tendon that makes it hard to bend the finger. The tunnel through which the tendon travels has narrowed, making it harder for it to move.
Rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes put you at greater risk for trigger finger. So do certain occupations, such as being a musician or farmer, where repetitive motion occurs.
A study has shown that eating fish just a few times per week can take a bite out of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) symptoms. In fact, researchers said that eating fish just twice per week is about one-third as effective as the strong drugs used to treat the disease. There are quite a few foods that can crush RA’s painful symptoms.
Dupuytren’s contracture. First reported in the 1600s, this condition tends to run in families. The connective tissue under the skin of the palm thickens over time, causing the fourth and fifth finger to curl permanently inward.
In its early stages, Dupuytren’s is simply a thickening of the skin. As it progresses, the thickness becomes ropy collagen that pulls on the fingers.
Bottom line: The health of your hands are vital to helping you continue hands-on living. Take steps to keep them healthy and if you find them holding you back, talk to your doctor.
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- Hand Trivia & Facts — eatonhand.com
- Is It Rheumatoid Arthritis? The Differences Between RA and OA — Healthline.com
- Peripheral Neuropathy — Healthline.com