Do I Need a Wrist Specialist? What Type of Doctor to See for Wrist Pain

According to a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, it’s estimated that 11 – 20% of emergency room visits in the United States are for hand and wrist injuries.

That may seem like a disproportionate percentage of visits, but Americans – especially service people, laborers and those in computer-based careers – injure their hands and wrists while at work every day. On-the-job accidents, repetitive wrist motions and excessive typing can cause acute or chronic hand and wrist pain and injuries. Additionally, many recreational activities and sports involve a higher risk of lower extremity injuries.

If you’ve suffered a wrist injury or are dealing with chronic wrist pain, you might be wondering if it’s time to see a wrist specialist.

What is a wrist specialist called?

While you might be inclined to see your regular doctor for your wrist pain, he or she may ultimately recommend seeing a specialist. That’s because the orthopedic systems of the hand and wrist are complex and may require an orthopedic specialist for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Per the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, orthopedics is “the medical specialty that focuses on injuries and diseases of your body’s musculoskeletal system. This complex system, which includes your bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles, and nerves, allows you to move, work, and be active.”

As such, orthopedic wrist specialists spend four years in medical school, five years training in an orthopaedic residency and one or two optional years of fellowship specializing in hands and wrists.

When Not to See a Wrist Doctor

If you tweaked your wrist, had a small fall or suffered some other minor injury, you may not need to see an orthopedic specialist. Minor strains and sprains can typically be treated effectively at home with ice, rest and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil), aspirin (Bayer), acetaminophen (Tylenol) and naproxen sodium (Aleve).

However, if your pain and swelling do not subside in a day or two – or if your symptoms become worse – you should see a hand and wrist specialist for proper diagnosis and treatment.

When to See a Wrist Specialist

If you’ve suffered an acute injury, such as a compound fracture, you should seek immediate medical attention.

Unfortunately, the symptoms of less obvious wrist injuries vary greatly and determining when to see an orthopedic specialist isn’t always clear cut.

If you’ve fallen on an outstretched hand or injured your wrist while playing a sport, you may be experiencing swelling, numbness and tingling, bruising and acute pain. If these symptoms don’t respond to elevation, rest, ice and NAIDs – or if they get worse – you should see an orthopedic wrist specialist as soon as you are able.

If you’ve been experiencing any sort of chronic pain for an extended period of time, it may be due time to seek treatment. Putting off proper diagnosis and treatment may only cause your condition to worsen or become permanent.

Wrist Injuries and Common Causes Wrist Pain

Fractures

Tendon Injuries

Arthritis

Other Wrist Conditions and Diseases

The hand and wrist are such an integrated, delicate system of bones, tendons, ligaments and muscles – it can be difficult to know when to see a hand and wrist specialist for diagnosis and treatment. If you have any questions or concerns about your wrist pain, please contact us and we’ll be happy to provide our professional medical advice.

12 Comments


Hello.My sister had wrist problem 5 years ago.she had surgery , and doctour take out a part of wrist bone after that she got infection ,but they dont know why? And they can not treat her,she take Antibiotic for 9 mounths.My sister lives another country.
Thank you.

Reply

    Soraya,
    I’m sorry to hear about your sister’s current complications. I would advise your sister to seek out another doctor until she finds one that can help diagnose and treat her infection and underlying issues.

    Reply

My wrist has been hurting for about 2 weeks now and it hurts when I move it certain ways. It hurts when i lift heavy things and when I touch it in a certain spot. So how do I know if I sprained it or just bruised it?

Reply

    Elizabeth,
    Only examination by a medical provider can make a definitive diagnosis and give you a treatment plan. That being said, wrist sprains are often signaled by a “popping” noise at the time of the incident.
    Other symptoms include swelling, pain, and tenderness.
    Fractures are often accompanied by a crack rather than popping, and movement after the injury may make a small grinding or crunching sound, which is typically not present with sprains.
    If your pain and limited use continue, you should see a specialist.

    Reply

My wrist cracks whenever I rotate it and after a while causes pain. This happened after an impact Injury that I never got checked out. After a regular xray and an MRI they were not able to find anything. What could be causing my cracking? My Primary chalked it up to it being normal but I’m 27 years old and this is not normal and I refuse to accept that.

Reply

    Fernando,
    I am sorry you are dealing with this. I would recommend seeing a hand and wrist specialist.

    Reply

I had thumb surgery (the thumb would move for no reason) several months ago…Now my wrists have pain along with the hands, sharp pain, down my hand..but the problem is, I have problem with them here & then..its not ALL the time. It feel sometime like I don’t have any pain at all..thanks, jenkins

Reply

    Hi Marilene,
    I recommend that you follow up with your surgeon, as he or she will be more familiar with your recovery specific to the procedure you had done. However, if you had surgery only a few months ago then you are still in the acute recovery phase, so it is not unusual to experience intermittent soreness as you continue to heal.

    Reply

I got my bone or muscle of wrist misplaced with normal movement of wrist. While talking i was moving my wrist suddenly a pain occured like something got misplaced in wrist. After that I got a bump in my wrist and it pains while I move it upward. No idea what happened.
Not sure what type of doctor to consult with?

Reply

    Hi Prashant,
    Sorry to hear about your wrist. The best doctor to see would be a hand specialist. However, it may be better to start out with a Sports Medicine specialist instead, as they can determine what the issue is first. If surgery is required they can refer you to a hand specialist from there. Dr. Mark Peterson is an excellent Sports Medicine specialist at our practice that would be happy to help you diagnose your issue and give you all of your non-surgical treatment options. Give us a call at (435)615-8822 to get scheduled!

    Reply

I have wrist pain on my left hand
I know it’s due picking heavy boxes and to much pressure
And it’s been coming and going every time past year i wear a support when I pick up and don’t feel the pain once I remove my support an apply my little pressure or push against slightly it hurts
Any advice in terms of X ray or treatment

Reply

    Hi Karim,
    It is always a good idea to try resting it for 2 weeks. Avoid lifting anything heavier than 10lbs and ice it 15 minutes on, 15 minutes off. If the issue persists after trying ice and rest for 2 weeks, then you should see either your Primary Care doctor or a Sports Medicine specialist so they can do x-rays and any other testing to diagnose the issue. Dr. Mark Peterson is an excellent Sports Medicine specialist and I recommend you see him should your wrist pain continue. To schedule with him, please call (435) 615-8822. Best of luck with your wrist Karim!

    Reply

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