Ulnar wrist pain is pain on the side of your wrist opposite the thumb. The pain is often mild at first, but can become severe enough to prevent you from doing simple tasks. Finding the exact cause of your wrist pain can be difficult. But when diagnosed correctly, ulnar wrist pain can be treated with surgery and other methods.

  • Experience. Each year, Mayo Clinic doctors diagnose and treat hundreds of people with ulnar wrist pain.
  • Expertise. Mayo Clinic specialists were the first to identify a common but unrecognized cause of ulnar wrist pain. Mayo specialists also developed a simple physical test for initial diagnosis of ulnar wrist pain.
  • Advanced techniques. Mayo Clinic patients have access to the latest imaging and treatment technology. State-of-the-art CT and MRI help Mayo doctors find the source of your pain. Most ulnar wrist surgery at Mayo uses minimally invasive techniques, which speed your recovery.
  • Team approach Treating ulnar wrist pain takes cooperation by specialists in orthopedics, radiology, rheumatology, sports medicine, and physical medicine and rehabilitation. Mayo specialists work together to ensure that you receive all the expertise you need.
  • Time for you. Your Mayo Clinic doctors will take time to listen, discuss options and answer your questions about ulnar wrist pain.
  • Research. Mayo Clinic researchers are investigating new ways to diagnose and treat ulnar wrist pain. You have access to the expertise of Mayo's clinician-researchers.

About

Ulnar wrist pain can be occasional or constant. It may worsen when you grip something or twist your wrist. Ulnar wrist pain can be hard to diagnose because it has several causes:

  • Split UT ligament. Even low-impact activity can cause the UT (ulnotriquetral) ligament, which connects your forearm bones, to rip apart lengthwise like a stalk of celery. The lengthwise split is often undiagnosed because it doesn't appear on X-ray or MRI. Mayo Clinic researchers were the first to identify a split UT ligament as a cause of ulnar wrist pain.
  • Swelling in the joint lining (synovitis)
  • Arthritis
  • Deteriorated soft tissue (degenerative tear)
  • Ruptured ligament
  • Dislocated tendon

Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., is ranked among the Best Hospitals for orthopedics by U.S. News & World Report. Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., are ranked high performing for orthopedics by U.S. News & World Report.

Your Mayo Clinic doctor will ask about your symptoms and do a thorough physical exam that includes:

  • Measuring the strength of your grip and your wrist's range of motion.
  • Determining if your UT ligament is involved. In a simple test developed at Mayo Clinic, the doctor presses his or her thumb on the UT ligament. If you have pain (ulnar fovea tenderness) similar to when you use your wrist, your UT ligament is probably damaged.
  • Determining if your wrist joint is stable, or if the bones and soft tissue move abnormally (unstable).

Mayo Clinic specialists usually recommend imaging tests to find the precise source of your pain:

  • CT scan can show instability in the wrist, when a unique CT method developed by Mayo specialists is used.
  • MRI can detect the cause of wrist instability (ruptured ligament or dislocated tendon) as well as signs of synovitis and degenerative tear.
  • X-rays can indicate arthritis.
  • Arthroscopy allows the doctor to see inside your wrist joint and may be used to confirm the diagnosis.

Read more about arthroscopy at MayoClinic.com.

Mayo Clinic specialists start with the least-invasive treatments possible:

  • A wrist splint can provide temporary pain relief if your wrist is stable (synovitis, arthritis or degenerative tear). Mayo Clinic specialists may suggest modifying your activities (changing your golf or tennis swing, for example) to provide long-term relief.
  • A wrist and forearm cast may be recommended if you have a recently ruptured ligament or dislocated tendon. It can take four to six weeks for the injured tissue to heal.
  • Cortisone injections can relieve pain.

Surgery

Mayo Clinic specialists usually recommend minimally invasive (arthroscopic) surgery if:

  • Your pain persists after other treatments
  • You have a split UT ligament
  • You have older (chronic) tissue damage from a degenerative condition

Arthroscopic surgery is done through several small incisions instead of one large one.

More extensive surgery may be needed if you have an older ligament or tendon injury. Injured tissue stiffens and deteriorates over time. It usually can't be repaired and must be replaced. The options include substituting a tendon for a ligament or rebuilding the joint.

Follow-up care

After surgery your wrist and forearm will be in a cast for about six weeks. Mayo Clinic specialists will show you exercises to increase your wrist's range of motion. You may need occupational therapy. You can expect your wrist to recover its full strength within a few months.

Mayo Clinic works with hundreds of insurance companies and is an in-network provider for millions of people. In most cases, Mayo Clinic doesn't require a physician referral. Some insurers require referrals or may have additional requirements for certain medical care. All appointments are prioritized on the basis of medical need.

A variety of specialists are involved in treatment of ulnar wrist pain at Mayo Clinic in Arizona, including specialists in orthopedic surgery, radiology, rheumatology, sports medicine and physical medicine and rehabilitation.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 800-446-2279 (toll-free) 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

A variety of specialists are involved in treatment of ulnar wrist pain at Mayo Clinic in Florida, including specialists in orthopedic surgery, radiology, rheumatology, sports medicine and physical medicine and rehabilitation.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 904-953-0853 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

A variety of specialists are involved in treatment of ulnar wrist pain at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, including specialists in orthopedic surgery, radiology, rheumatology, sports medicine and physical medicine and rehabilitation.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 507-538-3270 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Central time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

See information on patient services at the three Mayo Clinic locations, including transportation options and lodging.

Researchers in the Mayo Clinic Biomechanics and Motion Analysis Laboratory are working to improve diagnosis and treatment of ulnar wrist pain. Mayo scientists are developing CT scans that operate in four dimensions (3-D plus time) to show how joints operate in real time. Other research involves long-term follow-up studies on the success of various treatments for ulnar wrist pain.

Mayo publications

See a list of publications by Mayo authors on ulnar wrist pain on PubMed, a service of the National Library of Medicine.

Feb. 14, 2011