Key Points about Hand, Elbow or Wrist Tendon Injuries

  • Hand, elbow, and wrist tendon injuries are common in athletes and people who have jobs or hobbies which require repetitive tasks.
  • Hand, elbow, and wrist tendon injuries can be acute, meaning the injury occurred suddenly, or chronic, meaning that damage occurred over time. Tendonitis is a chronic issue and can include inflammation and small tears in the tendon.
  • Symptoms of hand, elbow, and wrist tendon injuries include pain, swelling, a popping or snapping sound at the time of injury, and difficulty moving the affected area, among others.
  • Many people with hand, elbow, and wrist tendon injuries can find relief of symptoms with rest, physical therapy, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve inflammation, and other self-care measures.
  • Depending on the type and locations, some people with hand, elbow, and wrist tendon injuries may require surgery, especially if a large portion of or the entire tendon is torn.
Common related conditions
Hand, Elbow or Wrist Sprain or Strain Hand or Wrist Nerve Injuries

Overview

Hand, elbow, or wrist tendon injuries are injuries to the bands of tissue that connect muscles to bones in the hands, elbows, or wrists. Tendons allow you to move your hands, wrists, and elbows.

Hand, elbow, and wrist tendon injuries are often caused by overuse. Trauma, such as from a fall or accident, can also cause hand, elbow, and wrist tendon injuries.

Hand, elbow, and wrist tendon injuries can be acute, as a result of trauma, or chronic, often as a result of overuse.

Hand, elbow, and wrist tendon injuries can take weeks to months to heal. Most people with hand, elbow, and wrist tendon injuries who receive appropriate treatment will begin to see improvement in two to three months. For more severe cases, treatment may include surgery and longer recovery time.

Hand, elbow or wrist tendon injury causes

Many hand, elbow, and wrist tendon injuries are caused by overuse and repetitive motion through activities such as tennis, bowling, and typing, among others.

Other causes include:

  • Sudden trauma
  • Normal aging/wear and tear

Hand, elbow or wrist tendon injury symptoms

Symptoms of hand, elbow, and wrist tendon injuries can develop suddenly or over time.

Signs or symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Weakness in the affected area
  • A snapping or popping noise at the time of injury
  • Difficulty moving the hand, wrist or elbow
  • Increased fatigue during activity

Hand, elbow or wrist tendon injury complications

If left untreated, complications of hand, elbow, and wrist tendon injuries can develop.

Possible complications include:

  • Worsened pain
  • Increased instability of the hand, wrist or elbow
  • Loss of function and range of motion in the hand, wrist or elbow

Hand, elbow or wrist tendon injury risk factors

There are a few factors that can increase your chances of developing a hand, wrist or elbow tendon injury, including:

  • Hand, wrist, and elbow tendon injuries are common in people who participate in activities that require repetitive hand, wrist, or elbow motions.
  • Prior injury. Hand, wrist, and elbow tendons that have previously been injured are more susceptible to further injury or tendonitis.
  • As people age, their tendons stretch and get thinner, making them more susceptible to hand, wrist, and elbow injuries.
  • Smoking products with nicotine can weaken tendons.

Hand, elbow or wrist tendon injury prevention

Some hand, wrist, and elbow tendon injuries cannot be prevented. For example, hand, wrist, and elbow tendon injuries that occur as a result of trauma may not be prevented. In other cases, you can avoid hand, wrist, and elbow tendon injuries by taking a few precautions. Some lifestyle modifications you can make to avoid hand, wrist, and elbow tendon injuries include:

  • Stretch and warm-up before exercise or prolonged periods of movement.
  • When starting a new exercise routine, increase the intensity gradually.
  • Use the appropriate form and technique when exercising or lifting heavy objects.
  • Do not continue to engage in activities that cause pain.

Hand, elbow or wrist tendon injury diagnosis

Your doctor can diagnose hand, wrist, and elbow tendon injuries. During a clinic visit, your doctor will perform a physical exam and take a full medical history. Your doctor also will test the strength and range of motion in your hand, wrist, or elbow. In some cases, your doctor will order imaging tests such as:

  • X-ray
  • MRI

These tests may be able to determine what is causing your pain.

Hand, elbow or wrist tendon injury treatment

As with most injuries, recovery from a hand, wrist, or elbow tendon injury depends on how severe the tendon injury is. Most hand, wrist, or elbow tendon injuries can be treated with nonsurgical treatments. Many people experience symptom relief within a few weeks to a few months with rest, physical therapy, and medication.

If your pain is affecting your ability to perform your daily activities, your doctor may recommend a nonsurgical treatment such as:

  • Avoiding using the injured area and pausing strenuous exercise is imperative during rehabilitation.
  • Putting a cold pack on the hand, wrist, or elbow tendon injury several times a day for 20 minutes at a time can help relieve pain and make movement easier.
  • Physical therapy. Physical therapy is key, first to reduce pain and swelling and then to increase strength and improve range of motion.
  • Keep the injured hand, wrist, or elbow elevated when lying down.
  • OTC medications. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or naproxen can relieve pain caused by hand, wrist, or elbow tendon injuries.

In some cases, if the tendon will not heal, hand, wrist, or elbow tendon injuries require surgical treatment. Rehabilitation after surgery often includes physical therapy.

When to Seek Care

If your pain lasts more than a week, is severe, or is progressively worsening, call your doctor to schedule an appointment.

Next Steps

Your doctor will develop a treatment plan customized to your case. Carefully follow your doctor’s treatment instructions.

If your pain intensifies, call your doctor right away to discuss the next steps. You may need a more advanced treatment option if a first-line conservative treatment is not effective.