May 11, 2021
3 min. read

Elbow and Wrist Pain Guide: When to Seek Help


Pain, while uncomfortable and stressful, is usually your body’s way of telling you something is wrong in your body. But how do you know when you need to seek a doctor’s advice, or when you can simply use a little rest and ice? For those who have experienced pain in the hand, wrist or elbow, it can be hard to know when you need to visit the doctor.

Of course, if you’re in severe pain that you can’t ignore, you should call your doctor or go to the emergency room. But if you’re not sure about your pain, you can read our latest article below to get a better sense of whether or not your injury requires serious medical treatment.

elbow and wrist pain

How did the pain start?

It’s important to ask yourself how the pain started; did you have a bad fall, an obvious reason for your injury, or did the pain come out of nowhere? If your pain did not come from a fall or other obvious injury, you might be experiencing pain as a result of an infection, inflammation, or an underlying metabolic issue like gout of diabetes-related neuropathy. Alternatively, the pain may be unrelated to your arm.

For example, you may be experiencing pain due to a pinched nerve in the neck, which can cause pain anywhere throughout your arm. If you’re highly active, you may experience joint pain as part of the normal process of aging. The wear-and-tear on your body from intense activity can cause joint pain, and other various forms of tendonitis.

patient provider

How would a doctor assess your pain?

Assessing your pain in the same way a professional would can help you figure out if you need urgent medical attention. If you are experiencing hand, wrist, or elbow pain, you can ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does it hurt if you press on it?
  • Is it inflamed (reddened)?
  • Is it swollen or stiff?
  • How would you rate your pain on a scale from 1 to 10 (with 1 being minimal discomfort and 10 being the worst pain you’ve ever experienced)?

If you answer “yes” to the first three questions, or if your pain rates somewhere between 6-10, you should call your doctor. But if you answered “no” to the first three questions and your pain lies somewhere between 1-3, you’re probably fine starting treatment at home.

elbow and wrist pain treatment

How can I start treatment at home?

There are a number of ways to begin treating your hand, elbow, or wrist pain at home. Try any of the following tips to see if you experience a reduction in your painful symptoms:

  • Apply ice to the painful area (if new onset) or heat (if present more than a day).
  • Take over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
  • Use a stretchy elastic bandage or other compression device to wrap the painful or swollen area. If you think your pain is the result of intense activity, take a break and give your body a rest.

What if my pain won’t go away?

If your pain persists after two or three days, it is a good idea to contact your doctor, as even tolerable pain can signal a more serious problem. Prepare for your appointment by making a list of all relevant information pertaining to your injury, like your activities and medications and supplements you’re taking. Your doctor will be able to provide further instructions and care and hopefully get you back to being pain-free.

Resources: Cleveland Clinic

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