The warm weather has rolled around again and it’ll soon be summer – the season when you spend more time outdoors playing sports, working around your home, or just enjoying leisure activities. All that seasonal activity puts you at higher risk for common hand and wrist injuries. With that in mind, allow me to tell you how to protect yourself against the most common hand and wrist injuries.
The Most Common Hand and Wrist Injuries
Your hands and wrists are especially vulnerable – especially as you get older – to injuries. These can include fractures of any of the small and delicate bones of the fingers and wrist, or even the 2 bigger bones of your wrist and forearm. As an orthopedist, I see a lot of sprains, fractures, dislocations and inflammatory conditions just from over-action or wrong action of hands and wrists.
While fractures do happen, most often patients come to me with repetitive-type tendon and ligament strain of hands and wrists from sports like tennis or golf, or spraining/straining muscles of hands and wrists while using heavier power tools working around the house. Here’s how to avoid winding up in your orthopedist’s office with an injury that could keep you from your game, or your daily activities, for 6 or more weeks.
Using your hands frequently whether in playing sports or working can result in sprains which are an over-use/stretching of the ligaments. Ligaments connect your bones to each other with sprains commonly occurring in the fingers (usually the thumb) and wrists.
Thumb: Sprains of your thumb occur when some action – perhaps a forward fall – or handling a heavy tool awkwardly – causes the thumb to pull suddenly downward or backward. This can result in not having full function of your thumb such as grasping, or being able to hold onto anything.
Wrist: A wrist sprain often occurs when you fall forward and put your hands out to break your fall. This action can put sudden force (the weight of your body) on the ligaments causing them to over-stretch, and sometimes even tear which results in a longer healing time.
Hands: I see quite a few finger fractures during the spring and summer. They are pretty common sports injuries that can result from punching volleyball, or boxing bag, too hard with a closed fist. One of the most common fractures of the hand bones, particularly the bone at the base of the 5th finger, is called a Boxer’s fracture. Other finger fractures can result from a heavy object falling on the hands and fingers creating a crack or break in the bones. The bent-back thumb sprain described above can also result in a fracture of the base of the thumb – called a Bennett’s fracture. This type of fracture often requires surgery to re-align the bones so they can heal properly. Most hand fractures are treated with casts but can be tricky to heal properly. Afterwards, they are prone to developing arthritis perhaps causing limitation of motion or function.
Wrists: I also see quite a few wrist fractures in the spring and summer, especially in men and women over 50 who fall forward on outstretched wrists. This can happen from a fall from a bicycle, or tripping on uneven cement, loose rugs, etc. It can create a navicular, or scaphoid, bone fracture, or perhaps a Colles’ fracture. These fractures can sometimes go undiagnosed initially because there’s little swelling and no obvious deformity. That’s why it’s important to have injuries checked out with an x-ray as these fractures require a cast that must stay on about 6-8 weeks to heal properly. They’re also a little tricky to heal as this area of the wrist has a unique blood supply that becomes disrupted with the fracture.
Dislocations often occur to joints, most commonly the joint of the hand above the knuckle, known as the PIP – proximal interphalangeal joint. These dislocations occur frequently with sports when fingers are either suddenly forced backward, or downward, from fast balls hitting on the tip of the finger.
Overuse of the hands and wrists in playing racquet sports, or games with a lot of wrist/hand motion, can result in inflammation of the tendon called tendinitis. A few common types of tendon injuries are DeQuervain’s syndrome, ECU (extensor carpi ulnaris) tendinitis often seen in basketball players, baseball finger, Jersey finger (when fingers get caught in clothing, or another object and pulled backward or forward), or Boutonniere deformity that can occur if your hand gets hit with an object when your hand is bent. You won’t be able to straighten your fingers for a while.
How to Avoid These Common Injuries
Whether you’re playing sports or working around your home, taking the necessary precautions to protect your hands and wrists can prevent you from a disabling injury. Here’s how:
Support: Wearing heavier, leather-like material, sport gloves can help prevent broken fingers and bloody road rash/infection if your hands hit the cement in a fall. Secondly, wrist guards can protect you from wrist fractures. If you’re working around your home, wearing heavier vinyl/rubber material work gloves can protect your hands from cuts, scrapes, abrasions from objects falling on your hands, or if you fall.
Warm Up: Always do hand and wrist warm up exercises before playing sports. This helps get tendons, ligaments and muscles limber so that strain, or tear, is less likely to occur.
Use Caution: Be sure to buy/use appropriate weight tools for your hand and arm strength. Don’t go up on ladders with heavy chain, or pole saws, whose weight can pull you over into a fall from the ladder. Reaching overhead with heavy tools can also result in suddenly bending your fingers and wrist backward causing sprains or fractures. Remember, it’s always smart to have assistance – like your spouse or a neighbor standing by – while performing certain home jobs. They can help hold a ladder for you. If you do happen to injure yourself, someone will be there to immediately help you.
Good Nutrition: Eating a bone healthy, anti-inflammatory diet with adequate calcium, vitamin D, protein, and Vitamin C can keep your bones, ligaments and tendons strong so they will be less likely to break, sprain/strain or tear. If you do happen to fracture a bone, taking extra Vitamin C can help the bone knit back together faster. Taking anti-inflammatory supplements like Omega-3’s can also help tendinitis cool down and heal faster.
Taking a little precaution to prevent sports and work-related hand and wrist injuries can go a long way. It can help you stay out of a cast, or splint, and help you stay active, healthy, and enjoying your spring and summer activities.
Mark Bromson, M.D.
Natural Health News
Most Common Hand and Wrist Fractures, http://www.bidmc.org/YourHealth/BIDMCInteractive/HealthyIs/BonesandJoints/HandandWrist/MostCommonInjuries.aspx
Hand and Wrist Fractures, http://orthopedics.about.com/od/handwristfractures/Information_About_Hand_Wrist_Fractures.html
Image Credit: buzzle.com