When pain develops in your hand, wrist or elbow, it can be difficult to determine if you should seek professional treatment or assess your injury at home.
According to Dr. Tim Dicke, an OrthoIndy hand, wrist and elbow specialist, it all comes down to the amount of pain you are in and what your body is telling you.
“If something is obviously wrong such as being unable to rotate your wrist or bend your finger, you should seek medical attention right away,” said Dr. Dicke. “If not, at home treatment methods such as ice or bracing may help relieve pain and swelling; however if symptoms do not go away within 48 hours, treatment may also be necessary.”
When should you see a doctor for a wrist injury, elbow pain or finger injury?
According to Dr. Dicke, you should ask yourself a few questions about the pain you are feeling.
- Does it hurt when you press on it?
- Is it red, bruised or inflamed?
- Is it swollen, stiff or are you unable to move it?
- How would you rate your pain on a scale from 1 to 10 (1 minimal pain and 10 the worst pain you’ve experienced)?
“If you answered yes to the first three questions and your pain is above a five, you should visit an urgent care clinic or make an appointment with a hand specialist,” said Dr. Dicke. “If your pain is low and improving, you can probably use at-home treatment methods to relieve pain.”
At-home treatment for hand, wrist or elbow pain
- Use over the counter medications, such as Tylenol or ibuprofen, to reduce swelling and relieve pain
- Rest, ice, compression, elevation (R.I.C.E.)
- Rest: Do not use the injured body part for at least 48 hours
- Ice: Ice your injured body part intermittently during the first 24 to 48 hours by using a thin towel and applying ice for 20 minutes every two hours; never put ice directly on the skin
- Compression: Splints or wraps can be used to reduce your swelling and restrict movement; great care should be taken to not apply wrap too tightly
- Elevation: Raise your injured limb to an elevated and resting position above their heart
What if pain is dull, but still won’t go away?
Sometimes you may experience hand, wrist or elbow pain that seemingly comes out of nowhere and lingers for a long period of time. If at home treatment methods don’t work or only work for a short period of time, you may need medical attention.
“Conditions like tennis elbow, carpal tunnel or arthritis can have painful flare-ups for a period of time and then go away,” said Dr. Dicke. “These types of conditions need medical attention even if the pain isn’t urgent or consistent. It doesn’t mean you need surgery, you may just need physical therapy or other non-operative treatment methods to relieve pain.”
It all comes down to assessing your pain and listening to what your body is telling you. If the pain isn’t acute, such as severe swelling and deformity after a sudden injury, you can probably avoid an emergency room visit.
If the pain is dull and goes away with at-home treatment you don’t need to follow-up with a medical professional. However, if the pain is consistent or comes and goes over a long period of time, it may be signs of an underlying condition and you should make an appointment with a hand, wrist and elbow specialist.
Learn more about hand, wrist and elbow treatment at OrthoIndy.
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