Orthopedics Community
12.7k Members
Avatar universal

Can't get doc to listen - hand, wrist, arm pain

I've been having a problem with my dominant hand/arm for over two years and cannot seem to get an orthopedist to take it seriously.   The symptoms started and have progressed gradually.  The problem primarily affects the pinky finger side of my hand/arm.  I get sharp, shooting pains across the back of that side of the wrist that run up into the back of the hand and into the lower arm.  Sometimes the pain goes all the way across the elbow into my upper arm.  But it never goes into the shoulder.    

The pain is worse with my palm pointing either toward the floor or toward the midline of the body.  Rotating the palm upward or away from the midline causes slightly less pain.   I do not notice any difference in pain if my elbow is straight or bent.  I've never noticed any swelling in the hand, wrist, elbow, or arm.  Icing the lower arm and hand helps temporarily.  Icing the elbow makes the pain much worse.

The arm, wrist, and pinky/ring fingers periodically become icy cold, to the point of pain.  But there is never any color change - no redness, no blanching, etc.  Running the hand under hot water helps temporarily.  I bought one of those warm wax machines, and that helps, too.  A heating pad doesn't get hot enough to help it.

Shooting pains in my dominant arm/wrist are starting to wake me at night.  When pain woke me early this morning, the entire arm was very cold.  My other arm did not feel cold at all.

Tasks requiring gripping or pulling are increasingly quite painful - brushing my hair, buttoning buttons, making the bed, lifting a glass of water, picking up/carrying my purse, washing dishes, shaking hands with someone who has a firm grip, etc.  I've switched to my non-dominant hand for many things, and that hand/arm is now starting to exhibit similar (but much milder) symptoms.   Pushing does not bother it at all.

Until the last week or so, typing did not bother it.  But lately when I'm on my laptop for more than about an hour, I'm getting sharp pains (feels like nerve pain) in the back of the wrist (on the thumb/index finger side) and along the back of the upper arm.  And the hand gets very cold.  This only happens at home; never at work.  I have a desktop computer at work; I use a laptop at home, so I suspect the ergonomics are wrong here at home.

From what I've read on the Web, some of this sounds like tennis elbow.  But I don't understand the shooting pains into the hand, the pain along the thumb/index finger side of the hand, or dropping small objects.  Perhaps it is multiple issues, not just one???

I've seen two orthopedists about this, neither of whom even took x-rays.   The first doc recommended rest, but after a week off work and really resting it (my hubby did all the cooking and housework!), my symptoms were worse.  When I went back to the doc, he just said it needed more rest.

I went to another orthopedist for a 2nd opinion.  He did a very quick exam that only took about a minute, then pretty much told me it was all in my head.  He said to let him know if things got worse.  A couple of months or so later, I started dropping things, particularly small objects like my keys, so I went back to him.  He did the same brief exam as before, said there was no muscle atrophy, and recommended spending more time with friends.  I was insulted and will not be going back to him.   (My husband and I are middle-age, have a wonderful marriage, both work full time, and are active in our church where we have many friends.)  

I have mild osteoarthritis and know I should exercise more, but I am otherwise healthy.  The osteoarthritis is controlled with mild OTC pain meds that I rarely need.  

Ironically, I had a similar experience back when I was in grad school with my dominant hand.  I could not get a doctor to take me seriously until I completely lost the use of the hand.  (I had lousy insurance at the time, and my primary care doc did not refer me to a hand specialist until it was too late.)  I was told my only option was extensive physical therapy, which my insurance would not cover.  I was persistent and was eventually able to get treatment at no cost.  After almost a year of treatment, I returned to work and school.    

My husband and I have good insurance through his employer, at least for now.  But his company is cutting back due to the economy, and he was encouraged to "start looking now."  So we don't know how much longer we'll have our good insurance.   (I work for a small company.  Love my job, but insurance is minimal.)

I really need to get this resolved while we still have good health insurance.  Any thoughts about what this might be or how to get a doctor to take it seriously?
4 Responses
723800 tn?1230887234
Hi, I also have simular problems, I went to my doctor about a pain that I was getting within the area of what seemed like my elbow, things started when I was having a cup of tea one morning and when lifting the cup I nearly dropped it due the exscruiating pain that accurred, I went to my doctors about it and thay said that it was'nt tennis elbow but a muscle tear within the joint, she gave me some cream to rub into the area but it did'nt make much difference, as time went by I went back and seeing a different doctor and she exsplained that she agreed with the doctor I saw and to continue with the cream with pain killers.
It still continues and the pain is now traveling down my arm to my wrist, I also exsplained that the fact although it's in my left arm I am actually left handed, I thinking about going back to see what else they'll say.
I do hate it when doctors don't listen to you or even worse don't take you seriously, I've often found that if you constantly keep going back to them they have no choice but to listen to you and take you seriously.
let me know how you get on.
Avatar universal
Ouch!  Muscle tears can be very painful.  I tore a muscle several years ago.  A week of complete rest followed by about 3 weeks of physical therapy did the trick.   Has your doctor said anything about physical therapy as a possible treatment option?

In terms of my arms, I ended up contacting a different specialist.  He diagnosed tennis elbow in both arms as well as problem with the ulnar nerve in one arm.  Braces on both arms, activity restrictions, and PT are slowly helping.  

My new doc said the tennis elbow is fairly severe, so healing will take awhile.  But I'm patient and have plenty of time, so that isn't a problem.  I'm just very grateful to finally know what it is and getting help with it.  

I agree with you about the frustration of doctors not taking us seriously.  It is also costly - additional time off work and the expense of multiple doctor visits.  

Do you have the option of seeing yet a different doctor?  Can you see someone who specializes in hand/arm injuries?  I hope you get the help you need soon!

Avatar universal
my brother-in-law had the same symptoms..so the Dr. suggested ulnar nerve (elbow area)surgery and it was the worse decision..its gotten WORSE, didnt help, now he cannot use his arm or hand at all.....dont do it..if  you can live with the pain, ice it and whatever you have to do.

He is worse now than before,  he cannot even use his hand, he is numb, it gets hot and cold, it tingles..it swells from time to time..he had no strength in his arm whatsoever!

and the Doctor does not know why??..so his physical therpist said there is probably an entrapment in his wrist now and that is why this is happening..

now why did the Dr. not know that this would happen.

He is so depressed, he wishes he never had the surgery..please do not do it, once you do this its too late.

Just thought I'd warn you out there..remember there is no way to see tendions..and  yes he went for his MRI, etc, etc..test..so stay away from the surgery if you can.

This is just in case the DR. tells you that you need this type of surgery..
Avatar universal
Thanks for the input; appreciate it.  I'm so sorry to hear about your brother-in-law.  

Fortuanately, both my doctor and I also oppose surgery.  My doctor said it should only be used as a last resort, and I completely agree.  Hopefully PT and other conservative treatment will work over time.  If it doesn't, I'll definitely keep in mind what you said and will only go with surgery if I get to the point where I absolutely cannot stand it.

Best wishes to your brother-in-law!
Have an Answer?
Didn't find the answer you were looking for?
Ask a question
Popular Resources
Find out if PRP therapy right for you.
Tips for preventing one of the most common types of knee injury.
Tips and moves to ease backaches
How to bounce back fast from an ankle sprain - and stay pain free.
Patellofemoral pain and what to do about it.
A list of national and international resources and hotlines to help connect you to needed health and medical services.