It's a normal part of everyday life, particularly as we age, to have some level of pain somewhere in our body.
Pain is our body's attempt to warn us that something is wrong.
However, not all pain indicates a "code red" requiring medical attention. For instance, getting out of bed in the morning may produce pain signals from various joints that are just your body's way of saying "we should proceed with caution until everything warms up".
So how do you know what pain requires help?
The simple answer is "it depends on how much it's getting in the way of living your life".
If you fall onto an outstretched hand and can't move your hand and wrist immediately afterward, it's a good idea to have someone check it out.
If you have a similar fall that results in pain and swelling but doesn't necessarily hamper your ability to move your wrist and fingers and starts feeling better with ice and rest, it might just be a mild sprain that doesn't need immediate help.
But if a week goes by and you don't have noticeable improvement, you will want to have it looked at.
Pain without a clear cause can be a little trickier. Pain that isn't necessarily related to trauma, such as arthritis, tendinitis or nerve pain, can sometimes creep up insidiously and may be difficult to pinpoint.
Usually, if pain lasts more than a couple of weeks, it's smart to seek help before it becomes chronic (meaning lasting longer than 12 weeks).
If you get help early for some of these issues, you can address them with conservative treatment and/or with the help of an occupational or physical therapist.
If you wait too long, some issues can't be fixed, as either a nerve has been impinged too long or a tendon has spent too much time breaking down and it won't heal 100%.
In summary, if you have a traumatic injury that causes severe pain then get help quick.
If you have an injury that causes initial pain but then gets better with rest and maybe some ice, perhaps wait a few weeks to see if it gets better before getting help.
But if you notice a pain shows up out of nowhere and lingers for more than a two or three weeks, don't wait too long to have someone take a look at it.
Trevor Petrie, Certified Hand Therapist
Trevor Petrie is a Certified Hand Therapist with a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy from the University of Washington.
He has been helping people with hand and upper extremity pain and injuries since 2012.
Over the course of his career, he has treated hundreds of people with chronic pain stemming from a myriad of causes including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, carpal tunnel and tendinitis.
No two people experience these issues the exact same way, so Trevor strives to find the best evidence-based approach that works for each person’s individual needs in order to get back to living their best lives.