Pain in the palm of the hand can affect a person's ability to perform everyday tasks. Causes can include injuries, infections, and conditions that affect the nerves, blood vessels, or tissues inside the hands.
In this article, we describe some possible causes of pain in the palm of the hand, along with other symptoms and treatment options. We also look into general treatment tips and when to see a doctor.
Injuries to the hand are a common cause of pain and other types of discomfort, particularly in people who regularly use heavy equipment, play sports, or work in hazardous environments.
Injuries can damage key areas of the hand, including nerves, tendons, and muscles.
Examples of injuries that may lead to pain in the palm include:
- knocks, blows, and forceful impacts, such as from dropping something heavy on the hand
- falling on the hand
- burns, such as from a cooking injury
- cuts to the palm
- insect bites or stings
- overusing or overextending the hand, such as during sports or very repetitive tasks
Other symptoms of a hand injury can include bruising, swelling, and stiffness. More severe injuries can result in damage to the structures and tissues inside the hand and wrist, such as the:
- blood vessels
A person can often treat mild hand injuries at home, such as by:
- resting the hand as much as possible
- applying ice to the area for up to 20 minutes at a time
- taking over-the-counter pain relievers
People with more severe injuries, such as fractures or dislocations, should seek prompt medical attention. Also, see a doctor for hand injuries that get worse or do not seem to be getting better.
When a person has carpal tunnel syndrome, this tunnel in the wrist becomes compressed or inflamed, placing pressure on the median nerve and tendons that run through it.
Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome can include:
- pain in the wrist, palm, and fingers
- numbness or a tingling sensation in the palm and fingers
- weakness in the hand or a reduced ability to grip objects
Symptoms often begin gradually and may be worse at night or when a person first wakes up.
Risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome can include:
- hand and wrist injuries that cause swelling
- regularly performing repetitive tasks with the hands
- a frequent use of vibrating hand tools
- a family history of carpal tunnel syndrome
Nonsurgical treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome can include:
- wearing a brace or splint
- avoiding or adjusting activities that may aggravate symptoms
- taking over-the-counter pain relievers, such as aspirin and ibuprofen
- receiving prescription medications, such as steroid or lidocaine injections
- trying yoga, acupuncture, or chiropractic therapies
For people with severe or difficult-to-treat symptoms, a doctor may recommend a surgical procedure to reduce pressure on the median nerve.
If a cut or wound on the palm of the hand becomes infected, it can lead to pain and swelling.
Other symptoms of an infected cut or wound can include:
- pus or drainage
- redness around the area
- warmth in the surrounding skin
- a fever or generally feeling unwell
Doctors usually prescribe antibiotics for people with an infected cut or wound. If the infection is significant, a doctor may need to surgically drain the affected area.
Peripheral neuropathy typically refers to conditions that affect nerves in the body's extremities, such as the hands and feet.
In the hands and fingers, peripheral neuropathy can cause:
- severe pain, which may result from even a light touch
- a burning or tingling sensation
- numbness or a loss of sensation
- difficulty moving or using the hand, such as when grasping objects
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke estimate that more than 20 million people in the United States have some type of peripheral neuropathy.
Diabetes and physical injuries are common causes of peripheral neuropathy. Other causes can include:
- autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
- conditions that decrease oxygen supply to the peripheral nerves, such as atherosclerosis and vasculitis
- nutritional imbalances, such as vitamin B-12 deficiency
- infections that attack nerve tissues
- excessive alcohol intake
Treatment for peripheral neuropathy usually begins with addressing the underlying cause. For example, managing blood sugar levels may help reduce the effects of peripheral neuropathy in people with diabetes.
Doctors may also prescribe medications to help relieve pain, such as antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and skin creams.
When vasculitis affects the hands, it may cause:
- shooting pains
- numbness, or a loss of feeling
- tingling sensations
- a loss of strength
Doctors do not fully understand what causes vasculitis. However, autoimmune disorders, infections, or certain blood cancers can sometimes trigger this condition.
Treatment depends on the type of vasculitis and the location and severity of a person's symptoms.
However, it often involves the use of anti-inflammatory medications, such as steroids. For more severe vasculitis, doctors may recommend cytotoxic drugs, such as azathioprine, methotrexate, or cyclophosphamide.
Palmar fasciitis is a rare medical condition that causes inflammation of the palmar fascia, a thickened band of tissue that connects the palm to the fingers.
The inflammation can make it difficult or painful when a person tries to straighten their fingers.
Palmar fasciitis usually affects both hands and is more likely to occur in people with polyarthritis.
Another condition affecting the palmar fascia is Dupuytren's contracture.
Treatment options for palmar fasciitis include:
- deep tissue massages
- pain relievers
- steroid therapy to relieve inflammation
A doctor may also recommend treating any underlying medical conditions that may be contributing to palmar fasciitis.
People can often treat hand pain at home by:
- resting or immobilizing the hand, for example with a brace or splint
- applying an ice pack to the affected area for up to 20 minutes at a time
- taking over-the-counter medications to relieve pain and inflammation
- performing gentle stretching and strengthening exercises, such as grasping an exercise ball
- massaging the hands to promote circulation and relieve muscle stiffness
When pain is severe, or it gets worse or does not respond to home treatments, see a doctor.
Seek prompt medical attention for:
- severe hand pain
- severe hand swelling
- suspected dislocations or fractures in the hand or finger
- severe wounds or bleeding that will not stop
Pain in the palm often results from a minor injury or from overusing the hand.
However, hand pain can sometimes also be the result of an underlying issue, such as an infection, inflammation, or peripheral neuropathy.
If hand pain gets worse or does not get better with home treatments, see a doctor. Anyone who suspects that they have an infected wound or a broken or dislocated bone should seek prompt medical attention.