At What Point Does Ulnar Sided Wrist Pain Require Surgery (and Do I Have Less Invasive Options)?

Finding relief from ulnar sided wrist pain can be frustrating. This pain occurs on the pinkie side of your wrist — the ulna is the arm bone that meets your wrist on this side of your hand.

Ulnar pain is associated with a wide range of causes. To further complicate things, your wrist consists of many different parts. This means your pain can be associated with an injury to cartilage, bones, tendons, or ligaments, making diagnosis a challenge.

Because treatment for ulnar sided wrist pain depends on the underlying cause, it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis as quickly as possible. The skilled team at Arizona Center for Hand to Shoulder Surgery in Phoenix and Mesa, Arizona, have the expertise necessary to determine the source of your pain and recommend the most effective treatment — from more conservative options to surgery, if required.

What causes ulnar sided wrist pain?

Finding the cause of ulnar sided wrist pain is your first step toward recovery. During a thorough examination, your hand surgeon feels your wrist and performs several movements to test your source of pain, strength, and range of motion. They also may use imaging tests, such X-rays, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and ultrasound. Wrist arthrography, which involves injecting a special fluid into the joint, can enhance the view of your wrist during these imaging studies.

Some of the most common causes of ulnar sided wrist pain include:

  • Broken wrist bones, often caused by a fall onto an outstretched hand
  • Tendon and ligament damage caused by bending your wrist back too far
  • Joint arthritis that occurs between bones
  • Compression or injury of the nerves in your wrist
  • Growths such as ganglion cysts, which are benign lumps adjacent to your wrist joints or tendons
  • Ulnar impaction syndrome, a condition in which the ulna extends past the radius, the other bone in your forearm, and the bones put pressure on each other

What are conservative treatments for ulnar sided wrist pain?

The most appropriate treatment for your ulnar sided wrist pain is based on its cause. In most cases, your hand surgeon recommends trying less invasive options before surgery. These treatments may be most effective for pain caused by injuries or specific types of motion.

Conservative treatment usually includes a combination of:

  • Rest to allow for self-healing
  • Activity modification to reduce and redirect repetitive motions
  • Casting or splinting for broken bones
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Steroid injections
  • Physical therapy

When is surgery appropriate for ulnar sided wrist pain?

Depending on the cause of your ulnar sided wrist pain and your reaction to less invasive treatment, your doctor may recommend surgery. While full recovery from surgery can take up to three months, doctors usually suggest surgical intervention when other options are ineffective. In cases that involve physical deformities, such as ulnar impaction syndrome, surgery may be your only option.

Your hand surgeon may recommend surgery when your pain is caused by an injury or tear to the triangular fibrocartilage complex (TFCC), a network of ligaments, tendons, and cartilage between your ulna and radius on the ulnar side of your wrist. During this procedure, your surgeon repairs TFCC damage by inserting special surgical instruments through small incisions on the side of your wrist.

Surgery may also be appropriate to remove a tumor or growth such as a ganglion cyst. These masses can cause nerve compression and persistent pain. Removing the source of the pressure can alleviate your discomfort.

If you have painful arthritis that doesn’t respond to standard treatment, your surgeon may advise wrist joint replacement surgery. This procedure removes the damaged parts of your wrist bones and replaces them with artificial implants. Joint replacement surgery can relieve pain and help you retain or recover function of your wrist and hand.

Don’t let ulnar sided wrist pain go untreated. Find out what’s causing your pain and what you can do about it. Schedule an appointment with a surgeon at Arizona Center for Hand to Shoulder Surgery online or by calling one of our three offices in Phoenix or Mesa.

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