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.

Ulnar wrist pain can vary, depending on the cause. It may worsen when you grip something or twist your wrist. Ulnar wrist pain can be hard to diagnose because it has a number of possible causes, including:

  • Trauma. Falling with your wrist outstretched is one way to cause ulnar wrist pain. Injuries that occur during sports that may overextend the wrist — such as racket sports, golf and football — also can cause ulnar wrist pain by damaging ligaments or tendons in the wrist.
  • Overuse. In addition to causing wrist pain from injuries, sports such as tennis or golf can cause problems due to overuse. Using a computer mouse or keyboard in a position that causes stress on the wrist can lead to wrist pain due to overuse. Certain occupations also can lead to overuse problems in the wrist, such as carpentry and plumbing, because they often must use tools in small spaces that require awkward positioning of the wrist.
  • Arthritis. As with other joints, arthritis in the wrist can result in pain.

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 around 5,000 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 surgeries at Mayo use minimally invasive techniques, which speed 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.

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

At Mayo Clinic, we assemble a team of specialists who take the time to listen and thoroughly understand your health issues and concerns. We tailor the care you receive to your personal health care needs. You can trust our specialists to collaborate and offer you the best possible outcomes, safety and service.

Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit medical institution that reinvests all earnings into improving medical practice, research and education. We're constantly involved in innovation and medical research, finding solutions to improve your care and quality of life. Your doctor or someone on your medical team is likely involved in research related to your condition.

Our patients tell us that the quality of their interactions, our attention to detail and the efficiency of their visits mean health care — and trusted answers — like they've never experienced.

Why Choose Mayo Clinic

What Sets Mayo Clinic Apart

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.
  • Checking for ligament damage. In a simple test developed at Mayo Clinic, your doctor will press his or her thumb on a specific ligament. If this causes pain similar to what you experience when you use your wrist, that 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 swelling or degeneration.
  • X-rays can indicate arthritis.

Mayo Clinic specialists start with the least invasive treatments possible:

  • A splint or cast may provide temporary pain relief of your wrist. A cast generally extends above your elbow to prevent forearm rotation. If treated early, your wrist pain may even be cured with a cast.
  • Pain-relieving medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) or naproxen sodium (Aleve, others), may improve mild cases of ulnar wrist pain when combined with rest and immobilization of your wrist in a splint or cast.
  • Avoiding activities that cause you pain, or your doctor may suggest modifying your activities (changing your golf or tennis swing, for example) to provide long-term relief.
  • Cortisone injections can relieve pain.

Surgery

If you have pain that persists despite treatment, or you have a more severe injury, Mayo Clinic specialists usually recommend minimally invasive (arthroscopic) surgery.

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, and may need to be replaced. 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 three to six 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's campus in Arizona, including experts in orthopedic surgery, sports medicine and physical medicine and rehabilitation. Other specialists are included as needed.

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's campus in Florida, including experts in orthopedic surgery, sports medicine and physical medicine and rehabilitation. Other specialists are included as needed.

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's campus in Minnesota, including specialists in orthopedic surgery, sports medicine and physical medicine and rehabilitation. Other specialists are included as needed.

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 Mayo Clinic's biomechanics 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.

Publications

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

June 06, 2015