Why Does My Wrist Crack When I Rotate It?

You may not realize it, but you’re constantly rotating your hand. For example, whenever you turn a doorknob or brush your teeth, you use your wrist to turn your hand. So, it’s quite common to hear a crack or pop when you rotate your wrist. Still, while a cracking or popping wrist is common, it’s also very treatable through proper medical care.

Wrist Tendonitis

Wrist tendonitis occurs when the tendons in your wrist — the tough tissues that connect the muscles in your forearm to bones in your hand — become inflamed. You can cause wrist tendonitis by repetitive stress on these tendons from overuse.

Symptoms of wrist tendonitis include:

Your medical provider can diagnose wrist tendonitis with a physical examination and a study of your symptoms. This physical examination may include your provider pressing on your forearm, hand, or wrist and asking you to perform specific movements. Once diagnosed, treatments for wrist tendonitis include:

In cases where these nonsurgical interventions aren’t effective, your provider may recommend surgery. Surgery for wrist tendonitis is generally an outpatient procedure, so you won’t need to stay in the hospital afterward.

De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis

De Quervain’s tenosynovitis — also called de Quervain’s tendinosis — is a common form of swelling of the specific thumb tendons. This condition is caused by the following:

Symptoms of de Quervain’s tendinosis include:

Nonsurgical treatments for de Quervain’s tenosynovitis are largely similar to those for general wrist tendonitis.

Wrist Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that affects joints in your body, including the wrist. This condition attacks the cartilage in your joints — the tough yet flexible tissue that covers and protects the ends of the bones in a joint. Over time, osteoarthritis erodes this cartilage generating friction in your joints, resulting in clicking or popping sounds and pain. Other symptoms of wrist osteoarthritis include:

As with tendonitis, your provider will likely recommend a nonsurgical treatment before exploring a surgical option. Nonsurgical treatments for osteoarthritis include:

If surgery is necessary, there are several methods your provider can utilize. These options include wrist fusion and wrist replacement surgery. Both are effective in pain relief, but wrist fusion will leave you with a drastically reduced range of motion in your wrist.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is one of the most common conditions that affect the hand and wrist. It occurs when your carpal tunnel increases pressure on the median nerve, which provides sensation to your thumb, index, and middle fingers. Pressing on the median nerve and tendons makes them swell, which cuts off sensation to your hand and fingers.

People who do activities or jobs with repetitive finger use are at risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Your medical provider can diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome using a physical examination, X-rays, electromyography, and nerve conduction studies. Typical symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include:

Typically, your healthcare provider will begin treating carpal tunnel syndrome without surgery. Nonsurgical treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome include:

There’s carpal tunnel surgery if your wrist doesn’t respond to these treatments. A surgeon will complete this procedure by cutting the ligament covering the carpal tunnel at the palm’s base to increase the carpal tunnel’s size and release pressure on the nerves and tendons.

Triangular Fibrocartilage Complex (TFCC) or Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU) Tear

The triangular fibrocartilage complex attaches the bone in your forearm to the bones in your wrist and helps stabilize it. The extensor carpi ulnaris — on the pinky side of your wrist — is similar to the TFCC in that it stabilizes your wrist and is vital to wrist extension.

You may have a TFCC tear if you experience a sudden loss of weight-bearing tolerance. Conversely, it’s likely an ECU tear if you have pain in the outer part of your wrist at the back of your hand. Additional symptoms of a TFCC or ECU tear include:

Your healthcare provider may use a physical examination and imaging to diagnose a TFCC and ECU tear. If either type of tear is minor, your provider can treat it with nonsurgical options, including:

For more serious TFCC or ECU tears, your provider may recommend surgery. Surgeries for both types of tears are minimally invasive and usually outpatient procedures.

Get Your Wrist Treated at the Hand and Wrist Institute

Do you hear a click or crack when you rotate your wrist? The Hand and Wrist institute can help you diagnose and treat this common issue. For over 25 years, our team of experts has served the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Using this experience, plus state-of-the-art facilities and the latest techniques, our staff will help you heal as efficiently and effectively as possible. Contact the Hand and Wrist Institute to ask any questions and schedule an appointment to treat your wrist.


Image  by Tom Claes is licensed with Unsplash License

Dr. John Knight
Dr. John Knight

Dr. Knight is a renowned hand, wrist and upper extremity surgeon with over 25 years of experience. Dr. Knight is a Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon and Fellowship trained. Dr Knight has appeared on CNN, The Doctors TV, Good Morning America, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Forbes, The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, Oxygen network and more.