Key Points about Hand or Wrist Nerve Injuries

  • Nerve injuries can disrupt communication between the brain and spinal cord and other parts of the body.
  • Nerves are very fragile and easily damaged.
  • Nerve injuries can cause loss of sensation, loss of function, tingling in the affected area, and numbness.
  • Nerve injuries occur when nerves are cut, compressed, or stretched. Nerve injuries can also be caused by underlying conditions, such as cancer or diabetes.
  • Treatment for nerve injuries depends on the severity of the injury. Treatment of nerve injuries can include rest, activity modification, medication, treatment of underlying medical issues, and physical therapy. Treatment of nerve injuries sometimes requires surgery. In some cases, if a nerve is completely cut, complete recovery may not be possible.

Overview

The body’s nervous system, which serves as the body’s information highway, is made up of thousands of nerves. Nerves are responsible for transporting messages from the brain and spinal cord to other parts of the body.

Nerves are protected by a layer of tissue. Even with this protection, nerves are easily damaged, which can lead to nerve injuries. Nerve injuries are often caused by being cut or putting excess pressure on the nerve. Nerve injuries can lead to a loss of sensation and function.

Hand or wrist nerve injury causes

Nerve injuries occur due to injury, trauma, or illness when:

  • The nerve is cut.
  • The nerve is stretched.
  • The nerve is compressed.

Nerve injuries can also occur as a result of underlying conditions such as diabetes, cancer, or Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Hand or wrist nerve injury symptoms

Symptoms of nerve injuries can be mild or quite severe, depending on the nerves that are injured.

Symptoms can include:

  • Tingling
  • Loss of feeling or numbness
  • Loss of mobility or function
  • Pain, which can be quite severe

Hand or wrist nerve injury complications

Nerve injuries can be challenging to treat. In some cases, if the nerve is completely severed, it can result in permanent loss of sensation or feeling. Complete recovery may not be possible for some nerve injuries.

Hand or wrist nerve injury risk factors

Risk factors for nerve injuries include:

  • A severe blow, burn or cut, such as from a car accident, can cause a nerve injury.
  • Repetitive use. Work tasks or other activities that put pressure on or stretch the nerve can cause nerve injuries.
  • People who are prone to falling are also at greater risk of nerve injuries.
  • Certain illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, and Guillain Barre Syndrome can increase the risk of nerve injuries.

Hand or wrist nerve injury prevention

There are lifestyle changes that may help prevent nerve injuries, including:

  • Use proper body mechanics during activities and while working.
  • Properly manage any health conditions, such as diabetes, to reduce your risk of nerve injuries.
  • Build-in frequent breaks from activities that require repetitive motion into your routine.
  • Eliminate risks that may lead to falls, such as trip and slip hazards.

Hand or wrist nerve injury diagnosis

Your doctor can diagnose nerve injuries. During a clinic visit, your doctor will perform a physical exam and take a full medical history. In some cases, your doctor will order imaging tests such as:

  • X-ray
  • Ultrasound
  • MRI
  • Electrophysiological tests, including
    • Nerve conduction studies
    • Electromyogram (EMG)

These tests may be able to determine if you have a nerve injury and how severe it is.

Hand or wrist nerve injury treatment

As with most injuries, recovery from a nerve injury depends on how severe the nerve injury is. Recovery from nerve injuries can be slow and can take several months or even years. Some nerve injuries can be treated with nonsurgical treatments.

If your nerve is not entirely severed, your doctor may recommend a nonsurgical treatment such as:

  • Resting the affected area and pausing strenuous exercise are imperative during rehabilitation.
  • Physical therapy. Physical therapy is key, first to reduce pain and prevent stiffness and then to increase strength and improve range of motion.
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or naproxen can relieve pain caused by nerve injuries. Your doctor might also recommend steroid injections to reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Braces and splints are used to keep the affected area in the proper position as it heals.

In some cases, nerve injuries require surgical treatment. The goal of surgery is to restore the function of the affected area by releasing the compressed nerve or connecting healthy nerve ends. 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.