What Causes Knuckle Pain? Everything to Know

Medically Reviewed By Daniel Wiznia, MD

Knuckle pain may have numerous different causes. You may experience sudden or acute knuckle pain from an injury or knuckle pain that worsens over time due to a chronic condition. Knuckle pain may affect only one knuckle, or you may feel pain in multiple knuckles. The pain can occur due to an issue with the joint itself or with the surrounding tendons.

This article looks at the possible causes of knuckle pain. It also reviews treatment options, when to contact a doctor, how to prevent knuckle pain, and more.

What causes knuckle pain?

There is a closeup of hands kneading dough.
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You may experience knuckle pain in one or more knuckles as a result of an injury. It can also happen as a result of inflammation, infection, or a chronic condition.

Injury

Types of injury that can cause knuckle pain include:

Learn more about finger injuries.

Inflammation

According to experts, conditions that can cause inflammation and knuckle pain include:

  • rheumatoid arthritis, which causes inflammation mostly in the hand, wrist, and knee joints
  • gout, a type of arthritis that causes crystals to form in the joints
  • osteoarthritis, a degenerative condition that affects joint tissue
  • stenosing tenosynovitis, or trigger finger, where the finger can become stuck in a bent position
  • De Quervain’s tenosynovitis, where inflammation runs from the wrist to the thumb
  • tendinitis, which can cause inflammation and pain in the whole finger
  • capsulitis, which occurs as a result of inflammation of the joint capsule

Learn about how arthritis can affect the fingers.

Infection

Types of infection can cause knuckle pain. They include:

Other causes

Other possible causes of knuckle pain include:

  • blood clot, which may occur after trauma
  • bone spurs, which often grow next to joints affected by osteoarthritis
  • diabetic limited joint mobility syndrome, or cheiroarthropathy, where the small joints become stiff
  • Raynaud’s disease, where blood vessels in the fingers and toes narrow in response to cold environments

What are the treatments for knuckle pain?

Treatments for knuckle pain can depend on the cause of the pain. If knuckle pain occurs due to an underlying health condition, then treating the condition may help to relieve the pain.

You can also take steps to ease knuckle pain. According to the Arthritis Foundation, these strategies include:

  • immobilizing the joint with a splint or brace while it heals
  • doing hand exercises as directed by your doctor
  • applying hot or cold therapy
  • taking over-the-counter pain relief medication, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or corticosteroids

For conditions such as arthritis, your doctor may recommend surgery. This can help to remove damaged cartilage, fuse painful joints, or replace the damaged joint as required.

Your doctor will be able to advise you on which treatments they recommend for you.

When should I see a doctor?

You should contact a doctor as soon as you have concerns about knuckle pain. This includes pain that does not go away or pain that keeps coming back.

Your doctor will be able to examine your knuckles and order tests to assist with reaching an accurate diagnosis.

Find out when to see a doctor for finger pain.

How do doctors diagnose knuckle pain?

To diagnose the cause of knuckle pain, your doctor may carry out a physical examination and take a medical history. They may then ask questions, such as:

  • How long have you had knuckle pain?
  • Is your pain constant, or does it come and go?
  • When do your symptoms occur?
  • Have you noticed anything that relieves the pain?
  • Are you experiencing any other symptoms?

They may then order tests to assist with reaching an accurate diagnosis. Tests they order may depend on any other symptoms you are experiencing, but can include:

Can I prevent knuckle pain?

Depending on the underlying cause, it may not be possible to prevent knuckle pain.

If you have arthritis in your fingers, making changes to your daily routine can help reduce pain. For example, the Arthritis Foundation recommends typing on a computer rather than writing by hand, when possible. Using pens, pencils, and cutlery with softer grips can also help.

Wearing suitable hand protection can also help reduce knuckle pain. This includes wearing gloves in cold environments and hand gear during sporting activities.

Contact your doctor for more advice on ways to prevent knuckle pain.

What are the potential complications of knuckle pain?

If you do not receive treatment for knuckle pain, complications may develop. These will depend on the underlying cause, but can include:

  • joint deformity and destruction
  • necrosis or death of tissues, which may require amputation
  • serious infection, such as sepsis
  • spread of infection to other parts of the body

Managing the underlying causes of knuckle pain can help prevent the risk of complications.

Other frequently asked questions

Here are some more frequently asked questions about knuckle pain.

Can you get arthritis in just one knuckle?

It is possible to get arthritis in just one knuckle. However, it is likely that the pain will also develop in other joints, experts say.

What are the first signs of arthritis in hands?

Common symptoms of arthritis in your hands include pain, swelling, stiffness, and weakness. Learn more about arthritis in the hands.

Is cracking your knuckles bad for you?

Cracking your knuckles may lead to ligament injury or finger dislocation, particularly if done incorrectly or too frequently, according to health professionals. It can also wear away the cartilage in your joints, which may result in inflammation.

Summary

Knuckle pain may have various different causes. You may experience pain in one or more knuckles due to injury to the hand or as a result of inflammation or infection.

Some health conditions can also cause knuckle pain. Treating the condition may help ease the pain.

Other treatments for knuckle pain include immobilizing the joint, applying hot or cold therapy, and taking pain relief medication.

Contact your doctor if you experience persistent, recurring, or severe knuckle pain. They will be able to carry out tests and advise on the right treatments for you.

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Medical Reviewer: Daniel Wiznia, MD
Last Review Date: 2022 Oct 25
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