Hand/Wrist/Arm Problems

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Pain and other problems in the hands, wrists and arms can be caused by injury, certain activities or other health problems. Follow this chart for for more information.

SYMPTOMS DIAGNOSIS SELF-CARE
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1. Did you hit, twist or fall on your arm, hand or wrist?


No

Go to Question 4.*

Yes

2. Is the affected area deformed or swollen?


Yes

You may have a FRACTURED bone.

URGENT
See your doctor right away. Apply ice packs to the affected area. Use a sling to help hold the arm still and reduce pain. Use an over-the-counter pain medicine such as ibuprofen to relieve pain and reduce swelling.

No

3. Does the pain get worse when you move your arm, hand or wrist?


Yes

If there is no fracture, the limb may be SPRAINED.

Avoid activities that cause pain. Apply ice and don't move your arm. Use an over-the-counter medicine such as ibuprofen to relieve pain and reduce swelling. See your doctor if the pain gets worse.


*4. Does the pain get worse with repetitive movement, for example, while you are working or playing a sport?


Yes

You may have TENDINITIS, inflammation of a tendon.

Use an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicine such as ibuprofen to relieve pain and reduce swelling, apply ice packs to the area and rest your arm. See your doctor if there is no improvement or if the area becomes swollen, red or warm. These may be signs of infection.

No

5. Is it painful to grip a doorknob, and does the pain start on the outside of your elbow and move down your arm to your wrist?


Yes

Your may have TENNIS ELBOW, a type of TENDINITIS.

Rest the arm, apply ice packs to the elbow, and use an anti-inflammatory medicine such as ibuprofen. See your doctor if there's no improvement, you can't bend your elbow, or if the area becomes swollen, red or warm. These may be signs of infection.

No

6. Do you have numbness or pain in your fingers, hand, wrist or arm, especially when you flex your wrist?


Yes

You may have CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME, a compression of the median nerve in the wrist and hand.

Use anti-inflammatory medicine such as ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling. A wrist splint may also ease pain and numbness. If your symptoms don't improve, see your doctor.

No

7. Do you have a firm lump or swelling near your wrist or finger joints?


Yes

You may have a GANGLION CYST, a common non-cancerous cyst.

See your doctor if the cyst causes pain or begins to grow rapidly.

No

8. Do you have redness, swelling or pain in the skin around a cut or wound, or is there a red streak anywhere on your arm or hand?


Yes

These are all signs of INFECTION in the hand, wrist or arm.

URGENT
See your doctor right away. Use an antibiotic ointment on infected cuts.

No

9. Are one or more joints swollen and tender?


Yes

You may have RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS, an inflammatory joint condition. You may also have GOUT, or an INFECTION of the joint or bone.

See your doctor right away. Use an anti-inflammatory medicine such as ibuprofen to relieve pain and reduce swelling.

No

For more information, please talk to your doctor. If you think the problem is serious, call your doctor right away.

This tool has been reviewed by doctors and is for general educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for medical advice. The information in this tool should not be relied upon to make decisions about your health. Always consult your family doctor with questions about your individual condition(s) and/or circumstances. Source: American Academy of Family Physicians. Family Health & Medical Guide. Dallas: Word Publishing; 1996.

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