What Are the Most Common Causes of Left Hand Pain?

Typing on a keyboard can be hard on the wrists, possibly aggravating carpal tunnel problems.
A model of a human left hand.
Repetitive use can cause pain in the left hand.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common cause of hand pain.
Individuals who suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome may find relief by using weight gloves.
Article Details
  • Originally Written By: Traci Behringer
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 29 August 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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Left hand pain is a symptom of several different conditions, some much more serious than others. It is unusual for people to experience pain in one hand but not the other absent some obvious and targeted injury, however, which makes paying attention to the symptoms quite important. People who use one hand more than the other are most at risk for pain associated with repetitive use injuries and cramping, but certain degenerative conditions like diabetes and multiple sclerosis may also be to blame. Pain that radiates up the arm might also indicate a coming heart attack. In general, anyone who has unexplained pain in one hand that doesn’t go away on its own should usually seek medical attention to rule out serious problems.

Arm Injury

By far the most common cause of pain in the left hand is injury to the left arm, wrist, or elbow. Fractures, sprains, and bruising can all cause sensation in the hand even if the hand wasn’t actually hurt. The human arm is made up of a series of muscles, tendons, and ligaments that are all interconnected. Damage in one area is often felt elsewhere as other muscles are forced to work harder; pain also tends to spread out from the site of the initial aggravation and into surrounding areas.

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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Most people think of wrist tenderness and tingling when they think about carpal tunnel syndrome, but hand pain is also included. Carpal tunnel syndrome happens when the median nerve in the wrist is pinched between bone, usually as a result of excessive, repetitive motion. Typists and people who spend a lot of time working on the computer frequently develop this condition, as do checkers, scanners, and clerks — basically anyone who commonly keeps their wrists engaged at an angle.

Carpal tunnel typically happens to both wrists at the same time, but a lot of this is dependant on the activity that caused it. Someone who uses their left hand more than their right may develop pain on just the one side. Wearing a brace to stabilize the muscles is one of the best ways to combat this; in serious cases, though, surgery may be necessary to repair damaged tissues and restore nerve function.

Tendonitis

Tendonitis in the wrist, fingers, or lower arm may also be to blame. This condition happens when one or more tendons become inflamed, which causes swelling and irritation or, in extreme cases, a total loss of sensation or permanent nerve damage. A number of tendons run up and down the hand connecting the muscles of the fingers to those of the wrist and arm, and inflammation can happen to one or all of them.

Most people who have pain in the left hand from tendonitis develop it either by straining or overusing the muscles in their hands, fingers, or wrists. Pianists, gardeners, and painters are some of the most common patients. In most cases the inflammation will go away on its own, but certain medications can be prescribed to ease the swelling and speed up healing.

Repetitive Motion Syndrome and Cramping

Pain can sometimes happen after repetitive motions that don’t damage the nerves or tendons, so can’t properly be classified as carpal tunnel or tendonitis. This sort of injury is usually more like a simple sprain in that is isn’t usually very serious and will normally go away on its own. Many medical professionals say that this sort of damage is due to “repetitive motive syndrome,” though there is some controversy when it comes to actually classifying this as a formal condition. Other experts simply refer to it as an overuse injury.

Muscle cramps are similar. Left-handed people who spend a lot of time doing things like writing, drawing, or painting often experience painful cramps if they grip their pen or brush too tightly, or if their bodies are positioned at an awkward or otherwise unnatural angle. Cramps can normally be relieved with a combination of stretching and rest, though over the counter painkillers can also be helpful in the short term.

Diseases and Degenerative Conditions

Pain that doesn’t go away on its own or that tends to come and go without a clear connection to some activity or use may be caused by a more serious medical condition. Diabetes is a common example. People who suffer from diabetes have trouble regulating their blood sugar levels, which can cause inflammation and pain in a number of different body parts. A person might feel pain in their left hand one day but in their right the next, for instance. Most of the time this will subside once the blood’s chemistry is back to normal, but not always; when left untreated, diabetes can cause lasting damage to the hands and feet.

Neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis might also be a cause. Multiple sclerosis patients typically face a slow deterioration of nerve and muscle control as the protective coating around the body’s main nerve structures wears away and breaks down prematurely. The disease isn’t usually curable, but patients can often control their symptoms, including left hand pain, through a series of different drug regimens.

Heart Attack

One of the most well-known signs of a coming heart attack is sudden, shooting pain in the arm, which often includes or sometimes even begins with the hand. In these cases left hand pain is usually only one of several other more serious symptoms, including tightness and crushing pain in the chest, faintness and shortness of breath, and a sudden onset of overwhelming fatigue. Anyone who experiences or sees another person experiencing these things should get immediate medical attention. Prompt treatment can often be the difference between life and death.

Medical Interventions and Treatment Options

Medical professionals usually advise people to keep a close watch on left hand pain and to get help if it recurs or gets worse over time. It isn’t usually considered “normal” to regularly have pain in one hand but not the other — and any pain is usually a sign that something is wrong. Healthcare providers who are able to diagnose the root cause are often able to provide the best treatment.

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Discuss this Article

anon929029
Post 6

Sometimes such pains are superficial, maybe as a result of excessive load on one side of the body while sleeping, lifting heavy household goods unintentionally or even on a hand or fingers due to a faulty pen. Better such pains are ignored than running to the doctor in panic.

anon358572
Post 5

I get left hand cramps after eating acid fruits such as pineapple, strawberries or lemon tea. It is not a heart problem as I can walk a mile very fast without effort or raising my breathing or heart rate much.

The cramps are due to some reaction to something in these foods.

Mor
Post 4

People are very well aware of the fact that left arm pain can mean a heart attack, but what they often don't know is that that is much more common in men than in women. Women often have symptoms like jaw or back pain, rather than pain in the arm. It's different for everyone.

indigomoth
Post 3

@pleonasm - I have a writer's callus on one of my fingers from gripping a pen, so I guess it's not surprising that people develop typing calluses as well.

I would be very cautious that you don't develop hand and wrist pain from too much typing though. I do tend to get it in my left hand, I think just because I hold it a little bit more stiffly when I'm typing.

pleonasm
Post 2

It's definitely worth paying attention to what you do with your hands during the day that might be causing pain in one hand but not the other.

I noticed, the other day, that one of my hands had a red, sore spot near the wrist and I couldn't work out where it had come from. I was worried that it was some kind of fungus or something, but when I took care to notice what I was doing with my hands, I realized the sore spot was from leaning that one against the keyboard while I was typing.

It's actually developed into a callus now, and there isn't any wrist pain. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not, but I can't really help it, since I have to keep typing this much.

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