What Causes Hand Pain and Numbness?

Everyone has had pain in the hand, whether it’s just from a bump or perhaps overuse. However, if hand pain persists or is accompanied by tingling, numbness, or weakness that interferes with important daily tasks, such as gripping items or typing on a keyboard, then an underlying medical condition might exist.

Cervical Radiculopathy Interactive VideoCompression of nerve roots in the cervical spine can lead to pain and numbness in the shoulder all the way down to the fingers. Watch: Cervical Radiculopathy Interactive Video

There are many causes of hand pain and numbness, including wrist problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome and systemic disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis. What many people don't know, however, is that hand pain and numbness often stems from a problem in the neck.

This article reviews all common causes of pain and neurological symptoms in the hand and finger, starting with problems in the neck, or cervical spine.

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How a Neck Problem Causes Hand Pain

When a nerve root in the cervical spine becomes compressed or irritated by a problem in the neck, symptoms can appear anywhere from the shoulder all the way down into the arm, hand and fingers.

Pain that travels along this nerve pathway, the radicular nerve, is called a cervical radiculopathy.

What Cervical Radiculopathy Feels Like in the Hand

Eight nerve roots exit the cervical spine on each side and feed nerve pathways down the shoulders, arms, and hands. These nerve roots are labeled according to the vertebral segment, C1 though C8.

See Cervical Vertebrae

See Spinal Cord and Spinal Nerve Roots

Each nerve root has its own responsibilities for motor and sensory functions to parts of the body, so cervical radiculopathy symptoms can be felt in parts of the body depending on which nerve root is affected.

For radicular pain in the hand, the symptoms of pain, tingling, and/or numbness usually stem from a problem in the cervical spine that affects the C6, C7, or C8 nerve root:

See Radiculopathy, Radiculitis and Radicular Pain

  • C6 radiculopathy. Symptoms would typically be felt on the thumb side of the hand and wrist, as well as into the thumb.
  • C7 radiculopathy. Symptoms would often be felt on the middle of the hand and wrist, as well as into the index and middle fingers.
  • C8 radiculopathy. Symptoms may be felt on the pinky side of the hand and wrist, as well as into the ring and pinky fingers.

See All about the C6-C7 Spinal Segment in the Neck

Radicular pain can range from mild and achy to sharp and shock-like. There could also be numbness, similar to when an arm falls asleep from laying on it the wrong way, or a tingling sensation that feels itchy or prickly like pins and needles. Some people also describe the nerve pain as feeling like the hand has been left in icy water.

Common Causes of Radicular Pain Symptoms in the Hand

Several neck conditions are capable of irritating a cervical nerve root. Common causes include:

This is not a complete list of conditions that can cause radicular pain down the arm and into the hand. For instance, one of the less common ways could be a tumor growing in the cervical spine that irritates a nearby nerve root.

See Types of Spinal Tumors

When to See a Doctor

If hand pain and/or function don’t improve on their own, then a doctor should be consulted. Many conditions are more easily treated early in the process. If a nerve is compressed, then it’s especially important to get treatment before permanent damage can happen.

See C6-C7 Treatment