What Causes Painful Fingertips?

There are many diseases, conditions and injuries that can cause pain in fingertips. Many times, this pain is caused by injuries to the hand – cuts, abrasions, dislocations and fractures. These obvious causes are not covered here. Instead, this article will look at medical problems and environmental causes of pain in the fingertips.

Causes and Treatments of Pain in Fingertips

Some of the medical and environmental causes of pain in the fingertips include:

1. Raynaud's Disease

Raynaud’s Disease is a disease that causes arteries in the hands and feet to spasm or narrow. This spasm causes decreased circulation to the hands. Typically, Raynaud’s sufferers will experience intense pain in the fingers. The fingers may be blue and cold. As the hands warm, the skin of the fingers may turn bright red with tingling pain in the fingertips. The cause of Raynaud’s may not be known. Sometimes, the condition can be linked to another medical condition, chemical exposure, repetitive actions or previous injury.

Treatment for Raynaud’s revolves around interventions to keep the arteries open. First, avoid the cold and other things that you know will trigger the Raynaud’s. If you notice the cold and pain in your fingertips, soak your hands in warm water – do not burn yourself by using hot water.

2. Frostbite

Frostbite is the condition that happens when your skin and other tissues are damaged by exposure to cold conditions. Symptoms of true frostbite include cold, white, hard skin with loss of feeling or only a dull ache in the fingertips. The real pain in the fingertips begins as the tissues begin to thaw. At that time, the skin will become bright red and the pain may be excruciating. Most cases of frostbite are caused by unprotected or prolonged exposure to the cold. Certain groups of people are more prone than others to frostbite. These include people who have had frostbite in the past, people with decreased circulation to their extremities, diabetics, smokers, and people taking certain classifications of medications.

To treat frostbite, warm your skin slowly in warm water. If you do not have access to warm water, put your hands in your warm armpits or groin area. Avoid rubbing the extremities with snow or any other substance since this may cause more damage. Do not put hands near a very hot source of heat since horrible burns can result. Remember, your skin will be numb and you may not know your skin is burning.

3. Peripheral Vascular Disease

Peripheral vascular disease is a condition in which the arteries in the extremities narrow and decrease the blood flow to the hands and feet. The main symptoms of peripheral vascular disease are pale skin and pain in fingertips and toes. You may also notice numbness in your hands or feet and slow healing sores. Peripheral vascular disease is typically caused by a buildup of fat and other material in the arteries (atherosclerosis). It can also be caused by artery infection or injury.

To treat peripheral vascular disease, your healthcare provider will work with you to develop a full plan of care. This plan will probably include lifestyle changes such as a good healthy diet, a smart exercise routine and smoking cessation if you are a smoker. Your doctor may prescribe medications or surgical interventions. If you have other medical conditions that put you at risk (e.g., diabetes or high blood pressure), your plan will include interventions to control these conditions.

4. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a hand condition that starts when a nerve is pinched in the carpal tunnel in your wrist. This condition can be caused by repetitive motion, injury, or the anatomy of your hand and wrist. Symptoms typically include pain, tingling, and numbness in your hand and fingers. Some sufferers will also experience pain that shoots into the shoulder on the affected side.

Treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome may begin with frequent breaks from the task causing the symptoms. Some people find relief from wrist splints and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen. Occasionally, your physician may recommend steroid injections into the carpal tunnel. Finally, if all other treatments fail, your healthcare provider may send you to a surgeon for surgical intervention.

5. Finger Arthritis

Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are typically the types of arthritis that causes pain in the fingertips. In these conditions, the cartilage in the joints is destroyed causing bones to rub against bones or there is inflammation in the soft tissues around the joints. Symptoms of finger arthritis include pain and swelling around joints that may lead to stiffness and decreased mobility of the joint.

Treatment for arthritis in the fingers will almost always include taking a NSAID medication. In addition, heat or ice applications may help decrease the pain. You should experiment to see which one works best for you. Splints may be necessary, but be sure to consult your healthcare provider before applying splints. One of the most helpful interventions may be physical or occupational therapy by a professional provider.

When to See a Doctor

If you know what is causing the pain in fingertips, and if it is a cause you can control, you probably will not have to see a doctor. You should be aware that there are some causes of the problem that need medical intervention. If you experience any symptoms of a stroke – severe headache that gets worse instead of better, visual disturbances, numbness radiating through the arm, confusion, any speech or walking problems, or any other symptoms that concern you – you should call for immediate emergency help. If you have other symptoms that are not improving with home treatment, make an appointment to see your healthcare provider.