Dorsal Wrist Pain: When Pain in the Back of Your Wrist Is a Cause for Concern

Dorsal Wrist Pain

A common orthopedic complaint among gymnasts, yoga practitioners, and even non-athletes, pain along the back of the wrist is known medically as dorsal wrist impingement syndrome, a condition that arises when the lining of the joint, or capsule, becomes inflamed and thickens.

Specifically, the inflammation is located in the capsule between the extensor carpi radialis brevis tendon, a forearm muscle that controls the wrist, and the scaphoid bone, one of the carpal bones on the thumb side of the wrist between the hand and forearm.

When the capsule is inflamed, individuals typically experience a pinching pain when the wrist is bent backward. That’s most likely because repeated extensions of the wrist, combined with frequently putting weight on the joint, leads to dorsal wrist impingement syndrome.

But it’s not only weightlifters who experience this. The syndrome is frequently seen in gymnasts, who extend their wrists and bear their body weight on their hands for certain exercises. Similarly, yoga poses such as the downward dog and plank require wrist extensions, which strains the soft tissue in the joint. In addition, dorsal wrist impingement syndrome can result from doing push-ups, or even when a person uses their hands to lift themselves from a chair. 

Ultimately, dorsal wrist impingement syndrome should be diagnosed by a doctor, who may manipulate the wrist to determine the site of the pain or perform an X-ray to rule out a broken bone or torn ligament. Fortunately, therapies for dorsal wrist pain can often be done at home. 

At-home Treatments for Dorsal Wrist Pain

Dorsal wrist pain treatments usually begins with conservative methods that patients can undertake at home. Here are four options shown to reduce the discomfort of dorsal wrist impingement syndrome.

  1. Rest. Avoid activities that put weight on or extend the wrist until the inflammation and pain subside. This gives the wrist time to recover,
  2. Wear a Brace. Keeping the hand and wrist immobile in a brace allows the inflamed tissue to heal. It also permits the capsule lining to return to its normal size.
  3. Ice. Swelling in the wrist responds well to icing. Ice further blocks pain signals in the muscles, which lessens the discomfort of dorsal wrist pain.
  4. Pain Medications. Over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen and naproxen reduce pain and inflammation. Though performed in a doctor’s office, a cortisone injection can offer the same effect at a stronger dose.

When Surgery May be Necessary

If pain persists despite conservative treatments like the ones mentioned above, patients may opt for surgery, especially if the discomfort prevents them from going about their normal activities. For this arthroscopic procedure, a surgeon cuts a small incision on the back of the wrist, through which a tiny camera is inserted. 

Viewing the interior of the wrist with the camera, the doctor is able to spot the irritated tissue. Then, a second incision provides access for an instrument called a “shaver,” which trims away the inflamed tissue.

Though only advised in the most severe cases, surgery has been proven effective in healing dorsal wrist pain, according to a research study published in 2017 in the Journal of Hand Surgery. The study confirmed that arthroscopic removal of inflamed tissue reduced pain and improved wrist function in all of the 19 patients observed for the research project.

Patients wear a splint for two weeks following the surgery. After that time, they can resume their normal activities.

Healing Wrist Pain

The specialists at Florida Hand Center have diagnosed and treated many wrist injuries. If you’re experiencing pain along the back of your wrist, we can determine if the cause is dorsal wrist impingement syndrome or another disorder. We’ll then suggest therapies that enable you to regain full mobility in your hands and wrists. Contact us today for an appointment.