Elbow, Wrist and Hand Pain

Suffering from elbow, wrist or hand pain can be quite debilitating. This is because we use our hands to complete very precise activities on a daily basis, like writing, or using a cell phone. Here you'll find information on what most commonly causes hand, wrist and elbow pain and what can be done to prevent it from getting worse. 

Scroll down to learn about what types of treatments you should be looking for, what physicians often don't have time to talk about, how our workshops might be helpful, and other services that can help you prevent your elbow, wrist or hand pain from getting worse. ​We are here to help you. Let's do this together!

What Causes Elbow, Wrist and Hand Pain?

The muscles in your forearm stretch out from your elbow all the way to the tip of your fingers. Your elbow, wrist and hand are connected by these muscle groups and often are precisely coordinated to work together. There are also several nerves that travel down your arm and into your fingers. Since your elbow, wrist and hand joints don't have a lot of extra space, it is easy for muscle tendons, ligaments or nerves to get irritated. This when some people are diagnosed with having Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Common causes of elbow, wrist and hand include:

  • Poor posture

  • Repeated motion (from work or sports)

  • Tension build-up

  • Injury

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Types of Treatments

Physiotherapy

Many research studies are looking at the impact that physiotherapy can have on the symptoms of elbow, wrist and hand pain. Most people turn to pain medications or injections, and often don't get any long term relief. These methods help to mask the pain temporarily but don't help the cause of the problem. When the pain keeps coming back, many will consider surgery.

Physiotherapy can help identify the cause of the problem, provide treatment and share strategies for you to manage your pain at home. It is never too early or too late to start correcting your movement patterns, reduce your pain and get back to a normal life.

Manual Therapy

In most cases, elbow, wrist and hand pain have an obvious cause. Having a physiotherapist do an assessment can be very helpful in identifying what is going on. Even if you've had a Nerve Conduction Test showing that nerve conduction is poor, this result is not permanent, and can be resolved fairly quickly, if treated appropriately.

With manual therapy, a physiotherapist can have a look at how the joints are moving, as well as how the muscles are helping with movement. They can verify if any nerves are being compressed or irritated. They can check to see if any ligaments are injured. These are all things that could cause your nerve conduction to be poor on a Nerve Conduction Test.

Carpal Tunnel and Tennis Elbow are common conditions that affect your elbow, wrist and hand. These two conditions can be successfully treated in physiotherapy without the use of medications, injections or surgery.

Once the cause is identified, manual therapy can help your joint move better, and help your muscles relax. You should feel some relief after the first few treatments. Your physiotherapist should show you some exercises to make sure that the pain keeps improving, and doesn't come back!

Exercises

When choosing exercises for your elbow, wrist and hand pain, you need to be very careful. If nerves, muscles or ligaments are irritated, exercises can often make it worse. It is important to find the cause of the problem first, before trying to use any kind of exercise.

Once you know the cause of the problem, a physiotherapist can prescribe you specific exercises to get you back on track, without making your pain worse. Then you can gradually find things that are more challenging, to get back to your daily activities without pain.

The type of exercise that you do is important. Your brain is most likely to remember how to recruit your muscles if you practice during activities that are meaningful to you. We want to make the changes permanent, so we use activities that you enjoy in the clinic, and in your Home Exercise Program.

Frequency

In order to make the brain understand which muscles should be working, it is important to practice your exercises correctly, and often. Just like remembering a new phone number. You might choose to review it, to make sure you remember it correctly, then you will repeat it to yourself often to make sure that you don't forget it.

The same strategy applies to your movements. You need to make sure that you are recruiting the muscles that improve your posture and movement patterns every time you perform an activity, like writing, or using a cell phone. For this reason, our treatment plans are designed with visits 1 to 2 times per week. 

Duration

The length of treatment has two components. First, the type of session, and second, the total length of the treatment plan.

There are two types of sessions to choose from: regular treatment and complex treatment. Most people with elbow, wrist and hand pain benefit from regular treatment sessions, that focus on only one problem. If you have pain in more than one place, sometimes a complex treatment session is beneficial to address more than one problem at once.

For your first treatment plan, we often suggest a duration of 4 weeks. This allows us to see how you progress and how you are doing with your Home Exercise Program. After these 4 weeks, you may choose to continue on your own, or to continue for another treatment plan, which can be for up to 12 weeks.

The duration of your treatment will be discussed with your physiotherapist on the day of your initial assessment. Depending on what the findings are, and what your goals are, you will talk about what type of treatment session is most appropriate and how many weeks you should start with. 

Exercise is Important!

What to expect from your specialist (and what not to):

When you are first experiencing elbow, wrist and hand pain, you might not be sure what to do next. Your specialist has likely talked to you about your ultrasound, X-Ray or MRI and what surgery can do for you. The topic of exercise has likely come up, but it might not be clear whether exercise is good or bad. 

Here's some information that your specialist won't discuss with you:  Exercise can help reduce pain. When you learn to use good patterns when reaching or lifting with your arms, your elbow, wrist and hand joints are able to move more efficiently, reducing the strain on your muscles and ligaments. By working on the correct movement pattern of your elbow, wrist and hand, you'll be able to continue using your arms without pain.

Exercise is very important to make sure that you continue to move with good patterns, to prevent the onset of pain and poor posture over time. You can do this on your own, or with the help of a physiotherapist. The important thing is that you keep yourself moving as much as possible for as long as possible.

Last Modified September 2019