The Nerves Of The Hand

Three nerves control our hands. Understanding nerve function can help us distinguish between benign symptoms and signals of nerve damage.



We use our hands to open jars, brush our teeth, tie a child’s shoe, send an email, and perform countless tasks that take us through our day. Because our hands are seldom at rest, it’s no surprise that people commonly experience tingling, numb, or aching hands. Often, these sensations are benign and temporary. But when we experience symptoms that are severe, episodic, or chronic, they may be signs of nerve damage. This article explains nerves in hands, what symptoms to watch out for, and when to see a specialist.

Identifying and diagnosing nerve problems can be tricky. The hand is a complex part of the anatomy, and there are numerous possible causes for nerve damage, including traumatic injury, repetitive stress, infection, toxic exposure, or systemic diseases such as diabetes.

Nerves in hand

Understanding the nerves in our hands is a good first step in evaluating whether hand symptoms might require a doctor’s care. Three nerves control function in our hands: the median, ulnar, and radial nerves. Each of these nerves is responsible for both sensory and motor function in different parts of the hand.

  • The median nerve. This nerve originates at the shoulder, and controls the muscles we need to perform fine precision hand movements and pinching functions. The median nerve is the only nerve that enters the hand through the carpal tunnel; a spaced formed by the carpal bones of the wrist. This nerve controls sensation in the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and one side of the ring finger.
  • The ulnar nerve. The ulnar nerve runs through the arm into the hand and is the largest unprotected nerve in the human body. It connects to the little finger and adjacent side of the ring finger of the hand, providing sensation on the palm side of the hand. The ulnar nerve enables us to grasp objects. It travels along the elbow, between the bone and overlying skin at the cubital tunnel. When we bump our “funny bone,” the painful sensation we feel comes from impact against this nerve. The ulnar nerve enters the palm of the hand through the Guyon’s canal.
  • The radial nerve. This nerve runs through the arm and controls our ability to extend our wrist and control the position of our hand. It also provides sensory feedback from the back of the little finger and adjacent half of the ring finger.

When to see a hand specialist

Nerves are delicate structures. If they are under stress, the sooner damage is addressed and corrected, the better the outcome will be. If you are experiencing symptoms that may be signaling nerve damage, consult a physician specializing in hand conditions. Proper diagnosis requires a physical exam and a thorough medical history to review your symptoms, work environment, lifestyle, past injuries or exposure to toxins, and a family history. Additional blood tests, an electromyogram, or other tests may also be necessary.

Summit Orthopedics is home to fellowship-trained hand surgeons who have received the highest levels of training and exclusively provide care for conditions of the hand, wrist, and elbow. These orthopedic hand surgeons practice in Vadnais Heights, Woodbury, Eagan, Apple Valley, Blaine, Hastings, and St. Paul, Minnesota.

Start your journey to better function and less pain: Find your hand expert, request an appointment online, or call us at 651-968-5201 to schedule a consultation.

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  • Andrew Thomas, M.D.

    “I am continually amazed by the mixture of strength, elegance, and humanity that come together in my patients’ hands and feel fortunate to be able to play a role in helping them when they encounter disease or injury as they seek
    to return to strength and function.”

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    “Driving, cooking, bathing, using tools, computers, and playing sports. We interact with the world largely through our hands, and I appreciate the importance of staying active and pain free.”

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  • Mark Holm, M.D.

    “Hand and arm injuries can change your life. Timely care done with a thoughtful plan can minimize the long term effect of an injury.”

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  • David Falconer, M.D.

    “My interests and favorite activities have helped me appreciate how patients feel when they have a hand or arm injury that is keeping them from what they love to do.”

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  • LT Donovan, D.O.

    “My personal passions for baseball and cycling often give me unique insights about how to treat sports-related injuries.”

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    “It’s important to keep moving as much as your body will allow comfortably on a daily basis, be it walking, jogging, biking, swimming, or skiing, to maintain your weight and health.”

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  • Robert Anderson

    Robert Anderson, M.D.

    “My own injuries and need for surgeries have helped me understand the patient experience. I’m a better listener and care provider as a result. I grew up and attended college in the area, so I know and understand the people of the Twin Cities.”

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