High school athletes account for 2 million injuries and 500,000 doctor visits each year in the United States. More than half of these injuries were preventable.
Whether you are a seasoned athlete or not the most coordinated, being aware of the realities of hand and wrist injuries is essential to your health. There are measures you can take to prevent these injuries in the first place and also prevent re-occurrence.
While dedicated athletes are continually at risk for sports-related injuries, anyone participating in an activity that uses the bones and tissues in their bodies could become injured.
With hand and wrist injuries it is especially important to seek medical treatment that is appropriate for your injury. Failing to seek prompt or appropriate medical treatment could worsen your injury or delay healing.
Keep reading for more information about hand sports injury and what to do if you think you might have one.
Hand Sports Injury Causes
Contact sports such as football, lacrosse, and hockey often cause injuries to the hands, fingers, and wrists. These injuries often include dislocations, sprains, and fractures.
Injuries occur so commonly in hands and wrists because there are so many different bones, tendons, joints, and ligaments used to keep them working.
These injuries can occur from falls that force the hand or fingers backward, direct blows to the body, or forceful impacts to the hands.
Athletes face a serious risk of these injuries as they are so common, but with proper care and treatment, these injuries will heal without leaving lasting effects.
Common Hand and Wrist Injuries
Hand and wrist injuries can occur to athletes and non-athletes alike. Most of the commonly identified hand sports injuries do occur in athletes and are specific to the type of activity or sport that causes them.
However, even daily activities can cause or worsen injuries to the hand or wrist. Anyone who uses their bodies every day is at risk for overuse injuries.
If your thumb fits too tightly in the bowling ball, you may be at risk for injury. Your ulnar nerve, located on the inside of your thumb, may become compressed and cause numbness, weakness, pain, and tingling.
Tendonitis is a common ailment that affects athletes in just about every sport.
Tendonitis also affects non-athletes from overuse of tendons in their daily lives. This ailment is inflammation, swelling, and irritation to a tendon. It’s usually caused by overuse or starting a new activity that a tendon is not used to.
This is an especially common form of tendonitis that affects the elbow.
The tendon located on the outside of the forearm starts tearing away from the bone. Much of the pain is felt down the forearm and not just at the elbow. Tennis elbow is an overuse injury.
De Quervain’s Tendonitis
This is a specific condition where the tendon that runs down the forearm to the thumb becomes inflamed.
This injury is especially common in golfers and fishermen. The affected tendon also runs through the wrist, causing pain all down the arm.
Participating in fly-fishing puts you at greater risk for this type of injury.
Golfer’s elbow is a form of tendonitis very similar to tennis elbow. The difference is that the tendon affected runs on the inner side of the elbow. As its name suggests, this injury commonly affects golfers.
This serious hand injury typically occurs in boxers who fail to wear boxing gloves or punch an object with improper technique, causing injury.
With this injury, the bones in the hand that form the knuckles suffer a break. This is definitely an injury that warrants an immediate trip to the doctor.
This type of injury is also known as “basketball finger,” but it can occur during any athletic activity that involves the hand coming in contact with a ball.
The severity of the injury can range from a sprain or dislocation that can be corrected by pulling on the finger, to a fracture or more serious dislocation.
This type of injury can either be chronic or acute in nature. Fingers can suffer this condition when the tendon the lifts your finger becomes injured.
The finger will then appear bent. Both the middle and fingertip joint can be affected.
If the injury is acute, your doctor will treat the injury with a splint. However, if the injury is chronic, surgery may be needed.
Wrist fractures are commonly seen in athletes such as snowboarders or rollerbladers who fall backward and use their hands to catch themselves.
However, wrist fractures can occur with just about any athletic activity.
This is also known as an ulnar collateral ligament tear.
Skier’s thumb occurs when the ligament that helps your thumb with grasping becomes torn. This causes pain and weakness of the thumb, particularly when attempting to grasp.
Also known as cyclist palsy, this condition occurs commonly among cyclists and mountain bikers.
The technical name for this injury is ulnar neuritis or ulnar neuropathy. The injury is caused by irritation to the ulnar nerve caused by holding the handlebars of a bike.
Cyclists can adjust the height of their bicycle seat and reposition their wrists to see if this helps. If they continue to experience tingling, numbness, pain, and a weak grip, they might need medical treatment.
If Injury Occurs
If you are participating in an athletic activity and sustain an injury to the hand or wrist, it’s important to take proper action.
If you are experiencing severe pain, numbness, swelling, loss of color, or persistent bleeding, you should seek emergency medical treatment.
If you hear an abnormal noise such as a clicking, shifting, or grating noise when moving your hand or see an abnormal twist or bend in your finger or hand, seek treatment immediately. If you have mild pain, mild swelling, and bruising that is not improving, contact your physician.
These symptoms are less likely to indicate a need for emergency medical attention. If you have sustained a mild injury to the hand, you can usually treat it yourself at home.
Your treatment should include rest, elevation of the affected hand, compression, and ice. If necessary, you can take NSAID medications to reduce pain and inflammation.
Call the Doctor
As mentioned above, if you experience pain that worsens with activity and does not improve or results in significant swelling and loss of range of motion, you should see your doctor sooner than later.
When it comes to injuries to the hand, prompt medical attention can reduce healing time and improve treatment outcomes.
If you are not sure whether to call your doctor about your pain, consider whether it is chronic or just occasionally sore.
If you experience temporary pain, you are experiencing soreness. If you have constant pain that worsens over time, your pain is chronic and should be evaluated by a medical professional.
If your pain progresses to times when you are not playing sports, you should see your doctor.
If you think you have suffered an injury, you need to stop doing the activity that injured you immediately. You do not want to cause further injury.
Depending on the severity of the injury, you should see your regular doctor or a sports medicine doctor as soon as possible.
When you visit the doctor they will use X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to diagnose and evaluate your injury. MRI scans show more soft tissue injuries than CT scans or X-rays.
Once the doctor is able to determine the extent of your injury, he or she will come up with a treatment plan. Most likely, the plan will start with conservative treatment techniques depending on the severity of the injury.
Rest and ice are sure ways to improve hand injuries and come with little risk of side effects. Your doctor may prescribe medications to relieve pain and inflammation.
If the injury is more severe, you may need a splint, a cast, or surgery. You will have to avoid participating in athletic activities while your injury heals.
When it is okay for you to return to sports, you may need a protective device to protect your injured hand, such as a wrist guard. You may also be asked to do physical therapy to help your injury heal and increase your range of motion.
Depending on the severity of your injury, you may be unable to return to the sport that caused your injury.
Specific treatment options depend on the factors of the injury itself. These include the type of injury, how long it lasts, where it is located, and how severe it is.
Surgery may be needed in the case of some ligament tears and fractures.
In less severe injuries, orthopedic doctors may use techniques such as “buddy taping.” This involves taping the injured finger to the next finger to stabilize it.
When your doctor is evaluating your treatment options, he or she is weighing the risks and benefits of different treatment options.
Your doctor will choose the best treatment plan for you to minimize the risk of both short and long term manage, long term stiffness and deformation, and reduced range of motion.
Common Ailments and Their Treatments
Muscle Sprains/Strains- These are usually treated with rest and compression as long as the injury is mild and not severe
Torn Ligaments- If you experience a torn ligament, you will probably need to go to the doctor. A cast will be used and surgery may be necessary.
Stress Fractures- Stress fractures, because they are commonly caused by repetitive motion, are usually treated with rest. Your doctor will take an X-ray to make sure the bone isn’t broken. You will likely be unable to return to sports until the fracture has healed.
Dislocated Joints- These injuries are quite common. A doctor’s visit is in order. Your doctor will reset the dislocated joint. If the injury is severe, you may require surgery. In most cases, a splint or buddy tape is sufficient after the joint has been reset.
Tendonitis- This common ailment is the best treatment with rest and stopping or limiting the aggravating movement. Ice is the best treatment for your tired muscles and over the counter pain medication may be prescribed.
Preventing Hand Injuries
There are some measures that athletes can take to prevent hand and wrist injuries from occurring in the first place.
Overuse injuries such as tendonitis can be prevented by taking regular breaks to rest the hands and wrists, wearing protective gear, introducing new activities slowly, and being careful not to overdo it.
Using proper stretching techniques, wearing wrist guards, and wearing gloves are all easy ways to prevent injuries to the hands and wrists.
As important as preventing injury is preventing re-injury. If you have sustained an injury to your hands or wrist, you need to listen to your body about when it is ready to get back to full activity.
Be especially careful to warm up, stretch, take breaks, and use protective gear. Getting back into your sport too quickly will only hurt you more in the long run and result in more time out of commission.
Your injured area will not as strong as it was pre-injury, right away. Take it slow and build back up to the level you were performing at. If you start to feel pain, stop and determine whether you need medical attention.
Listen to your body and don’t push yourself beyond your limits.
Contact a Doctor Today
If you have suffered a hand sports injury that has not resolved with conservative treatment, you might need hand surgery.
It never hurts to get a second opinion when it comes to your health. Consulting a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of hand-related injuries will give you peace of mind about your treatment options.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment.