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The most common causes of hand inflammation, pain and swelling and what you can do to stop them

Author: Steve Stretton
January 29, 2021
Great way to soothe migraines

From health conditions to personality and the future, it seems that our hands can be used as indicators of many things. If they’re painful, swollen or inflamed, however, it can only mean one thing: there’s something wrong with your body.  

We’re tipping our hands to the top 10 easiest ways to heal from hand inflammation, so you’ll know how to beat pain and swelling before it gets out of hand.

What is inflammation?

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to tissue damage. It’s a defense mechanism that protects us from infection and injury, eliminating damaged tissues so that the body can initiate the healing process. 

Fluctuating movements of blood, blood vessels, fluids, white blood cells and proteins are some of the specific natural occurrences in the body’s natural inflammatory process. This can all lead to the distinctive signs of inflammation, such as pain, heat and swelling in the affected site. 

What are the types of inflammation? 

Inflammation may either be acute or short-term, lasting for a few days, and chronic or long-lasting, which can drag on for weeks to several months.

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9 most common causes of swollen and painful hands and their symptoms

There are many reasons why your hands become inflamed, with the most common causes being injuries and specific medical conditions. 

Hands and finger swelling is a common symptom of some medical conditions, as in the case of arthritis, which peaks in the morning upon waking up. Other forms of injury such as infections can likewise result in inflammation in your hands. 

Swollen and inflamed hands are most often not serious, but in some cases they can be a sign of an underlying medical condition, including COVID-19, that warrants a visit to the doctor. 

1. Hand or finger tendonitis 

Tendon overuse or injury causes inflammation and tenosynovitis, or the inflammation of the lining of the sheath encapsulating a tendon. DeQuervain’s tenosynovitis, affecting the thumb, and trigger finger are the most common conditions of hand tendon overuse. 

Symptoms: Tenosynovitis causes moderate to severe pain when you try to make a fist or when your hand grasps at something. Pain and swelling near the base of the thumb and difficulties moving it are also the common signs.

Trigger finger, on the other hand, causes finger stiffness particularly in the morning, or a finger locking bent position which you may or may not be able to straighten (hence the name) or one that suddenly pops straight out. 

2. Hand or wrist bursitis 

Bursitis is the inflammation of the tiny fluid-filled sacs, which are found in several parts of your body, including your hands and wrist. It is typically triggered when there are problems with the nearby bone or joint structure that then put too much stress on the bursae (sacs). 

Symptoms: Pain and discomfort in the affected site (hand or wrist). If left untreated, bursitis may cause muscle deterioration and limited movement in the affected joint of the hand or wrist.

3. Finger, hand or wrist injuries 

Contact sports players, handymen and those who’ve had accidental falls are often victims of hand, wrist or finger injuries. A torn ligament, sprained finger or finger bone dislocation are most often the result of these activities, with inflammation following shortly. 

As the body’s natural response to traumatic injuries, inflammation triggers a rush of fluids that cause swelling and nerve compression that leads to pain and discomfort. 

Symptoms: Pain and discomfort, swelling, redness and heat in the affected area. Bone fracture and dislocation may likewise cause deformity and apparent bone breaks in the case of an open fracture. 

4. Hand infections

Hand infections may be caused by bite wounds, punctures, cellulitis, felon, herpetic whitlow, septic arthritis and infectious tenosynovitis, among others. 

These can pose severe problems if left untreated, so early treatment of antibiotics is recommended. If it gets worse, surgical drainage and damaged tissue removal are the treatment options.  

Symptoms: Swelling, pain and redness in the affected area. Finger discolorations, breaks around the skin and pus are likely to develop, as well as reduced range of motion. 

5. Arthritis

Arthritis refers to swelling, pain and stiffness in the lining of the joints. More than 100 types of arthritis and its related conditions exist, affecting more than 50 million adults and 300,000 children in the US, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

Joint inflammation most often affects the hips, knees, fingers, hands and shoulders, with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis being the most common perpetrator. Persons with psoriasis, a skin condition, can also develop arthritis.

Symptoms: Extremely swollen and painful joints that are also warm to the touch. A feeling of numbness, tingling and warmth in your hands and feet are likewise common among rheumatoid arthritis patients.  

6. Lupus 

Sadly, there’s no cure for this autoimmune disease, which occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells, destroying them in the process. Like arthritis, lupus flare ups can cause inflammation in the whole body, with the first signs of the disease being joint pain and stiffness. As the body becomes inflamed, the thin lining in the joint likewise expands, leading to pain and swelling in the hands, wrists and feet. 

Symptoms: Besides arthritis-like pain and swelling, lupus can also cause muscle pain, fever, fatigue and swelling around the legs or even the eyes.

7. Carpal tunnel syndrome 

The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway of bones and ligaments at the base of your hands, where the nerves and tendons that bend the fingers, among other tasks, are located. When any of the tendons become irritated, they tend to press on the nearby nerves, causing carpal tunnel syndrome. 

Symptoms: Tingling, numbness and pain in your hand and fingers. A weak thumb or difficulty gripping can also signal carpal tunnel syndrome. 

8. Lymphedema

Lymph fluid buildup causes a condition called lymphedema, which can either be primary, if you’re born with it, or secondary, as a result of cancer treatment. 

Symptom: Swelling and painful arms or hands, a heavy and tight feeling and decreased arm, hand or wrist movements. 

9. Angioedema

Angioedema is similar to hives or urticaria, with the only difference being the location of allergic inflammation. While hives affect the epidermis, or top layer of the skin, angioedema affects the deeper layers including the dermis, subcutaneous tissue and mucosa, as well as submucosal tissues.

Histamine and other chemicals are released to the bloodstream in an allergic reaction, which triggers swelling underneath the skin. Most angioedema impacts the lips and eyes but it can target the throat, feet and hands, too. 

Symptoms: Swelling and redness, pain or warmth in the affected sites. Besides swelling and pain, your sore hands or fingers can suffer from loss of flexibility and mobility. If it goes untreated for long periods of time, swelling can lead to nerve pinching and blood flow reduction. 

The top 10 says to reduce inflammation in your hands 

1. Cold and hot packs 

Gel packs are the most convenient and accessible treatment for hand inflammation, pain and swelling, and you can never go wrong with this hand ice pack that offers the best value for your money. 

Made especially for your hand, this glove-shaped hand ice pack does a superb job in relieving pain and discomfort caused by a slew of conditions, including minor hand injuries, arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, discomfort from chemotherapy and eczema. 

As satisfied users point out, this pack remains flexible even when frozen and the inner ice pack provides adequate compression to relieve various hand problems. The best thing about this pack is its versatility; it can be used warm or cold to accelerate your recovery from various conditions. 

2. Compression gloves 

Therapy gloves are mostly intended to provide relief and support to arthritis patients in their daily activities, but they’re capable of addressing other symptoms too, such as swelling, pain, joint stiffness and reduced range of motion.  

3. Have some tea 

Green tea, turmeric, rose hip and ginger are herbs and spices packed with serious anti-inflammatory properties. They’ve been used to treat various conditions for  centuries, and taking them can help ease arthritis symptoms, prevent certain forms of cancer and boost your immune system. 

4. Tweak your diet

Processed meat and other foods that are high in sugar, trans fat and refined carbohydrates are believed to cause inflammation. While a pure anti-inflammatory diet has yet to exist, try increasing your consumption of vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates and lean proteins to fight inflammation. 

5. Take supplements

Alleviate hand pain by taking anti-inflammatory supplements rich in Omega 3 fatty acids such as fish oil or krill oil. Top this off with other vitamin supplements packed with vitamin C, vitamin D, glucosamine-chondroitin, resveratrol and alpha lipoic acid. 

6. Stay active 

If you’re not wearing a cast or splint, continue moving your fingers, wrist and arm to facilitate the flow of fluids in your body and prevent stiffness. When done correctly, moving the affected area will help boost your recovery.   

Wash the dishes or gently flex and bend the affected part while it is submerged in hot water. You may likewise try swimming to alleviate hand pain. 

7. Hand or finger splinting 

When worn on the fingers, splints may help ease symptoms in arthritis patients and those with inflamed tendons by helping stabilize the joint, supporting joint alignment, enhancing hand function and keep deformities from getting worse. Dr. Philip Blazar, an orthopedic surgeon and associate professor at Harvard Medical School, recommends for arthritis patients to wear a splint for a few weeks to reduce inflammation.

Splints cannot be used for open hand fractures, though. 

8. Manage stress 

Research has validated what we suspected all along: stress is linked to inflammation. While the direct relationship between the two is yet to be established, it seems that inflammation reduction was seen in persons who practice stress management methods such as yoga and deep breathing, says Dr. Alka Gupta of New York’s Brain and Spine Institute at Weill Cornell Medicine. 

9. Feel-good activities

This one’s linked to managing stress properly and it involves doing whatever it is that makes you feel good. Stepping outside to gather some vitamin D, for instance, may help protect your joints against osteoarthritis.  

Listening to music and loudly humming to your favorite melody is said to relieve pain, while smelling some calming and medicinal oils such as lavender, eucalyptus and the like can alter your pain perception as well. 

10. NSAIDs and injections 

Non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) help relieve hand pain and swelling. As with other medications, long-term NSAID use may cause risks that include ulcers, stomach bleeding, liver damage and increased risk of heart attacks. 

For moderate to severe hand inflammation, consider having a corticosteroid injection. The downside of this is that its effectiveness diminishes over time, meaning it is not great for long-term use.   

Conclusion 

Unless caused by serious injuries, swollen and painful hands should not be a major cause for concern. Gel packs, lifestyle changes and stress management methods can all help ease hand inflammation symptoms. 

Medical intervention may be required in some cases such as hand infections, so go to your doctor before it gets worse.   

We’re curious to know how you deal with hand inflammation symptoms. Can you tell us more about it in the comments section?  

Hi, I’m Steve Stretton, owner and manager at Gelpacks.com. If you’d like to know more about gel packs and our cool products, don’t hesitate, write us a message.

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