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How to know if your hand pain is a muscle or nerve problem

Common Mistakes in Treating Mallet Finger

Ever had pain that comes on for NO reason at all?  You can’t remember a time when you hit it, banged it, crushed it, or even slept on it wrong!

It’s so frustrating because the hand pain seems to come on for no apparent injury or accident.

These types of injuries are considered chronic type of injury that becomes “acute” meaning increasingly more painful or troublesome.

 Now, how do you know if it’s a MUSCLE problem or a NERVE problem?

Well…the easiest way is to look for those nerve problems.

Hand nerve problems

Nerve problems in the hand can generally create sensory changes and only come from 3 nerves – the median nerve, the ulnar nerve, and the radial nerve.

The most common is the median nerve.  If you have numbness in the tips of your thumb, index, middle, and even sometimes your finger – that can be caused by the median nerve.

If you have numbness of the ring finger and/or the small finger, that is your ulnar nerve. 

Your hands or fingertips might have numbness or tingling sensation.  You can still feel things when you touch them, but that hand DOES NOT feel like the other ones. 

Nerve problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome and cubital tunnel cause sensory changes to the TIPS of the fingers.  They also can happen at certain times of the day, or when you are in certain positions.

Other sensor changes such as a diffuse sensation of fatigue of your arm for no reason….weird kind of numbness to the back of your hand…or just touching your skin and feeling like there is a difference between one arm to the other arm – are all signs of NERVE types of issues. 

Certain nerve issues do NOT qualify for surgery such as thoracic outlet syndrome or cervical radiculopathy.  

Compared to muscle problems, they do NOT have any of those symptoms.  

occupational therapist miami

Muscle pain in hand

Muscle pain can and tends to be sharp in nature when it happens, then goes away.  How fast it goes away varies on the particular type of problem.  

When the sharpness goes away, it can leave a dull achiness behind.

Regardless of whether you have a muscle problem or a nerve problem – getting the right help is critical to getting rid of the symptoms you feel.

Most people, when they have muscle pain, wait for a long time before coming in. That’s just because if their pain doesn’t STOP them from doing anything, we as humans tend to put it off.

I see and hear this often when people have thumb pain, or trigger finger that cause hand pain, or even wrist tendonitis that limits how much they can grip.

One gentleman we helped waited 3 years to get help for his hand pain until one day, he was on a date and couldn’t open a bottle of water because his hand hurt too much.

We often see at our clinic people come in much faster (though not by much) when they have numbness that is unexplained. 

Both can be treated conservatively – meaning without the need for pills, injections, and surgery.  

The most important aspect of treating nerve related problems is to go to a clinic that will treat you as a whole person because, in order to be effective with avoiding surgery, a comprehensive evaluation needs to be completed. 

That means your therapist needs to be looking from the neck down to your hands.

Most general mill clinics will only treat you for what is written on a script or what is paid for by the insurance company.  

If you are going somewhere and NOT getting the results or don’t understand what is possible for you, then give us a call at the office or request a Discovery Visit.

It’s an opportunity to speak with the specialist, ask questions, and they will perform a screening to see if therapy with us can help you with your specific diagnosis.

Written by Hoang Tran

About the author – Hoang Tran; an expert in physical & occupational therapy

Hoang Tran is a Miami certified hand therapist, the owner of Hands-on Therapy Services, and the author of the book “The Hands-On Approach”. She loves helping people with hand, neck, and shoulder problems because she knows how bad and debilitating they can get if not addressed and treated properly (once and for all!).

The aim of her Miami occupational therapy is to bring patients back to full functionality, without pills, injections, or surgery. Occupational and Physical Therapy are both offered at Hands-On Therapy by our experienced therapists who provide a comprehensive approach to your care.

If you are struggling with hand and wrist pain, including 

or any other hand condition, speak with one of our specialists for FREE by signing up for a 30-minute Discovery Visit here! Talk to our specialist first before booking any paid session. We like to ensure that we can help you before taking you on as a client.

PS. If you know someone suffering from neck/shoulder pain, share this free guide with them. Click for the Carpal Tunnel  Pain Guide.

Painful trigger fingers

The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment.  Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.

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