The importance of healthy hands isn’t something that should come as a surprise to anyone – after all, we use them all day, every day. But it’s easy to take good hand health for granted until something goes wrong. And this happens more often than you think.
In 2015, there were 143,900 hand-related injuries in the workplace alone. This makes them the second most common type of workplace injuries. These injuries might carry a low mortality rate but they can have a huge impact on your quality of life and your ability to work.
Getting the right attention for your hand injury is the first step into getting the right treatment for it. And knowing the different types of hand injuries can help you get the right diagnosis. Not familiar with common hand injuries?
Then you’re in the right place! Read on to find out the seven types of hand injuries you should know about.
How Our Hands Work
Your hand and wrist might be small in comparison to the rest of your body but they’re made up of twenty-seven individual bones. This is roughly a quarter of the number of bones you have in your entire body! But these aren’t the only important parts of your hands.
Your hands’ anatomy includes a complicated and intricate network that helps them perform the most delicate tasks. This network includes:
- Eight carpal bones (wrist bones)
- Five metacarpal bones (long bones of hand)
- Fourteen finger bones or phalanges (each finger has a proximal, middle, and distal) except the thumb (proximal and distal)
- Ligaments (attach bones to bones)
- More than thirty different muscles including short muscles that help us to grip
- Eminence muscles
- Connective tissue
In addition to this, your hands also contain a network of nerves and blood vessels.
Each of these elements plays a vital role in helping our hands function as they should. But if one of them gets damaged then this can upset the whole system and lead to hand pain. So even if you only seem to have a minor hand injury it’s important to get this checked out as soon as possible.
To understand more, let’s take a look at some of the types of hand injuries you could encounter.
1. Broken Hands
Only a thin layer of muscle and tissue protects the anatomy of your hands and this means that an impact can do a lot of damage. On top of this, your hands are often in a position to get trapped, squashed or have something fall on them. So they are even more vulnerable to injuries.
A high-impact can result in a bone fracture. These often happen if something strikes your hand suddenly, if you are in a car accident or if you fall on your hand. Symptoms of a fracture include:
- Severe pain around the fracture site
- Pain that gets worse if you grip your hand or try to squeeze
- Difficulty moving your fingers or thumb
Some breaks are easier to spot. For example, a broken finger may look crooked. Or a compound fracture occurs when the bone, or the impact that causes the fracture, breaks the skin.
Compound fractures are more dangerous as they can also lead to nerve damage in your hand.
If you find that you have a cut hand, whether your bone breaks the skin or not, it’s important to clean this properly. If you don’t, this could lead to a serious infection further down the line.
Simple breaks can be extremely painful but luckily they are short-term injuries. Provided you get the right treatment as soon as possible, they shouldn’t cause any long term damage. If you’re not sure whether you have a break, check out these signs of a broken finger.
Tendonitis is a much less dramatic type of injury but it can make your hands hurt a lot over time.
It happens when the tendons, which connect your muscles to your bones, become inflamed. This can lead to swelling and irritation, which is very painful and can make it difficult to use your hands properly.
Other symptoms of tendonitis include an aching sensation around the site of the inflammation. Your hand may also become slightly swollen or be tender to touch.
Patients who have comorbid metabolic conditions such as diabetes have a higher chance of tendonitis.
There are several causes of tendonitis. It can occur if you hand receives a sudden impact, as this can damage the tendons. However, the more common cause it repetitive movement of your hands.
For example, typing at your computer for a long time or over-using your smartphone can lead to tendonitis.
Tendonitis is also a common injury if you play sports a lot. The repeated motion of swinging a golf club or throwing out a fishing line can lead to De Quervain’s tendonitis. This affects the tendon that runs from your forearm through to your thumb.
Trigger finger’s are simply tendonitis of the flexor tendon at the level of the finger.
Fortunately, it is possible to treat mild tendonitis by giving your hands a break from a certain activity. This can be more difficult to do if the activity is your job. Speaking to a physiotherapist may help you do your work in a way that gives particular tendons a break.
3. Strained Hands
There is some overlap between tendonitis and hand strains. Both of these conditions affect your muscles and the tendons that connect them to your hand bones. However, hand strain can affect a much larger area of your hand.
You can strain your hand muscles in the same way that you might pull a leg muscle by running to fast or angling it suddenly. When this happens you stretch out the muscle’s fibers which is what causes you to feel pain.
Over time, these fibers will knit back together but this can take a while. While this happens your hand may feel achy and it’s important to rest it as much as possible. This will speed up your recovery.
4. Sprained Hands
You may hear people using the terms strained and sprained interchangeably. But they actually refer to quite different injuries. A sprain occurs when you damage the ligaments in your hand.
A ligament is a type of tough tissue that helps to hold bone and cartilage together. But, while it is tough and flexible, you can still tear or stretch it out of place.
This often happens if you fall awkwardly onto your hand, especially if you put your hand out to break a fall. This can lead to part of your hand bending too far out of place. This is why sprains are a common type of thumb or finger injury.
Let’s say, for example, you fall forward, put your hand out and your thumb bends back on itself. Unless you’ve fallen from a considerable height, your bone probably won’t break. However, the ligament will have to stretch to accommodate this new position.
If you think that this has happened to you then you should check for the common symptoms of hand sprains. These include:
- Pain at the site of the injury
- Swelling around the site
- Tenderness or warmth when you touch the injury site
- Difficulty moving your hand, fingers or thumb as normal
- Weakness around the injury
When this happens you may also feel a popping or tearing sensation at the site of the injury.
If this happens, limit activity in that hand for at least forty-eight hours to help it recover. Keeping it elevated with a cold compress can also help. You can also take anti-inflammatory painkillers to help to ease your discomfort.
Dislocated hand bones are particularly grim injuries. They occur when a large amount of force is applied to the hand while it is in an awkward position. Rather than breaking any bones, this can lead to them moving out of place.
This type of injury can affect most of your hand but the capitate and lunate bones are most vulnerable to it.
It’s often very easy to tell if you’re dislocated a bone in your hand, although you may confuse it with a fracture. It will be very painful and your hand will usually look misshapen or out of place. You’ll also struggle to move your hand as usual following this kind of injury.
When this happens it’s important to seek medical attention immediately rather than trying to fix the problem yourself. A doctor will need to x-ray your hand to fully appreciate its new position. Then they will look at getting the bone back into place.
This may involve a simple manipulation or it could require surgery.
6. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
One of the most common complications from hand injuries is nerve damage. But nerve problems in your hands aren’t always the result of an injury, as carpal tunnel syndrome demonstrates.
Part of your wrist includes the carpal tunnel – a passage surrounded by ligaments and tissue – which contains your median nerve. This passageway is usually very inflexible but, in some cases, it can start to narrow. This puts pressure on the median nerve.
As a result, you may experience numbness or tingling in your fingers and hand. Carpal tunnel syndrome can also be painful and lead to weakness in your hand.
There are several treatment options for carpal tunnel syndrome depending on how serious it has become. This include:
- Wearing a brace or splint
- Taking anti-inflammatory drugs
- Reducing repetitive movements
- Practicing nerve gliding exercises
- Steroid injections
However, many of these can have an impact on your ability to work. In fact, on average this injury resulted in an average 28 days off work back in 2015. Getting it treated sooner may minimize your recovery time.
Osteoarthritis is a common condition that can occur anywhere in your body but is particularly common in the hands because they get so much use. It affects the cartilage that sits between your bones.
Your cartilage is a firm layer of tissue that sits between the bones in your hand. It plays an important role in stopping your bones from rubbing together. But over time, repeated movements and use of your hands can start to wear this layer down.
As this happens, there is less and less there to stop the bones rubbing together so your body may try to repair the damage.
As this happens, the tissue inside your joints becomes active. This can cause your joint’s structure to change somewhat leading to crooked joints. This in itself isn’t a problem if the joints start working again.
However, this can go wrong and this is what causes osteoarthritis. You may find that your joint lining builds up and makes the joint swell. Or your joint may grow an extra piece of bone, making it difficult to move it.
As the tissue in your joint tries to accommodate a new position it can also become overstretched. This means it doesn’t support your joints as well anymore and may make them unstable.
The result is that your joints become sore, swollen and stiff. You may also find that it becomes difficult to move your hands as usual.
This is a common, and almost unavoidable, condition as we get older. But for some, it can start when you’re much younger. If this happens to you, you should speak to a doctor about any changes you can make and treatment options that can slow down this condition.
Make Sure You Get the Right Treatment for Different Types of Hand Injuries
As you can see, there are lots of different types of hand injuries that can seriously inhibit the use of your hands and be very painful!
If you suffer from a serious injury or one that gets worse with time, it’s important to seek medical attention sooner rather than later. This could prevent serious long-term damage to your hand’s function.
For help with your injury, book an appointment with an experienced hand physician today.