Evaluation and diagnosis of wrist pain: a case-based approach

Am Fam Physician. 2013 Apr 15;87(8):568-73.


Patients with wrist pain commonly present with an acute injury or spontaneous onset of pain without a definite traumatic event. A fall onto an outstretched hand can lead to a scaphoid fracture, which is the most commonly fractured carpal bone. Conventional radiography alone can miss up to 30 percent of scaphoid fractures. Specialized views (e.g., posteroanterior in ulnar deviation, pronated oblique) and repeat radiography in 10 to 14 days can improve sensitivity for scaphoid fractures. If a suspected scaphoid fracture cannot be confirmed with plain radiography, a bone scan or magnetic resonance imaging can be used. Subacute or chronic wrist pain usually develops gradually with or without a prior traumatic event. In these cases, the differential diagnosis is wide and includes tendinopathy and nerve entrapment. Overuse of the muscles of the forearm and wrist may lead to tendinopathy. Radial pain involving mostly the first extensor compartment is commonly de Quervain tenosynovitis. The diagnosis is based on history and examination findings of a positive Finkelstein test and a negative grind test. Nerve entrapment at the wrist presents with pain and also with sensory and sometimes motor symptoms. In ulnar neuropathies of the wrist, the typical presentation is wrist discomfort with sensory changes in the fourth and fifth digits. Activities that involve repetitive or prolonged wrist extension, such as cycling, karate, and baseball (specifically catchers), may increase the risk of ulnar neuropathy. Electrodiagnostic tests identify the area of nerve entrapment and the extent of the pathology.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls
  • Adult
  • De Quervain Disease* / complications
  • De Quervain Disease* / diagnosis
  • De Quervain Disease* / physiopathology
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Electrodiagnosis / methods
  • Female
  • Fractures, Bone* / complications
  • Fractures, Bone* / diagnostic imaging
  • Fractures, Bone* / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Medical History Taking / methods
  • Pain* / diagnosis
  • Pain* / etiology
  • Pain* / physiopathology
  • Physical Examination / methods
  • Scaphoid Bone / injuries*
  • Symptom Assessment / methods
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods
  • Ulnar Neuropathies* / complications
  • Ulnar Neuropathies* / diagnosis
  • Ulnar Neuropathies* / physiopathology
  • Wrist / physiopathology*