Hand Specialist: What They Do and When It’s Time to See One

The U.S. Department of Labor states that almost 25% of workplace injuries are hand injuries. The hand is composed of a network of connective tissues, nerves, muscles, and bones. Many people with hand injuries shrug it off as not a big deal.

After a few weeks or a month, the pain becomes intense. That’s when they realize they should have made a quick trip to see a hand specialist when it occurred.

Many people take things for granted, like our ability to do activities that use the hand. We partake in these activities every day, such as typing, writing, or tying shoelaces. But we don’t fully understand the importance of the hand until pain strikes.

Some hand injuries require immediate treatment to avoid long-term damage. Read on to know who a hand specialist is, what they do, and when it’s time to see one.

Who Is a Hand Specialist?

A hand specialist is a professional trained in orthopedic, plastic, or general surgery. Their specialty is in treating forearm, wrist, and hand disorders. They are experts who diagnose these problems and use non-surgical and surgical treatments.

A hand specialist understands the networks of nerves that make up the hand. They can work with individuals with hand injuries or conditions of all ages. If you’re having problems with function and mobility or ongoing pain, it’s time to see one.

Why a Hand Specialist?

It’s best to see a hand specialist when it comes to problems and conditions related to the hand and arm. They are more adept medical professionals who offer practical solutions in that area.

Hand specialists must complete their medical training before they start attending to patients.  The training is usually a one to two year hand surgery fellowship after a long residency orthopedics, general surgery or plastic surgery.   In total hand specialists can spend about 6-8 years of training before they start practicing.     If a hand specialist is not available, your orthopedist, plastic surgeon, or general surgeon can see and treat you, depending on their experience, comfort level, knowledge, and expertise.  

How Fast Do I Have to See a Hand Specialist After an Injury?

If you have a hand or wrist injury, it’s crucial to assess and treat it properly. Patients are encouraged to book an appointment with a hand doctor as soon as possible.

Most patients wait for the injury to get better and seek treatment if it doesn’t. Others wait for the swelling to go down to do an X-ray. Neither of the above should be followed.

The right thing to do is to get a diagnosis as soon as possible. Treatment is more difficult if there is a delay in diagnosis.

The ideal time to see a hand specialist is the next business day if you can. But if the injury results in severe pain or deformity, you need to rush to the emergency department.

Signs That an Injury Needs Care From a Hand Specialist

• Bruising

• Swelling

• Deformity in the wrist or hand

• Pain with decreased or increased range of motion

• Laceration that causes numbness or limited movement

Note that you may not have any of the signs mentioned above. But if the injury is causing pain, tingling, or numbness, you need to be evaluated.

Finger injury or fracture may not be significantly swollen or deformed. You may be able to move or bend it with a fracture. However, it may need surgery to be appropriately aligned.

Some fractures, mainly on the wrist, may require an MRI as they may not be seen on an X-ray. Jammed fingers or dislocated joints can cause tendon or ligament injuries. They need to be diagnosed as well.

If not properly treated, they can cause long-term deficits. They include permanent stiffness, joint laxity, or decreased range of motion.

See a specialist if you have problems using your wrist or hand to do daily tasks. For example, visit a hand specialist if you’re having problems typing or gripping a glass of water. All these are signs that you may be having a wrist or hand problem.

See a specialist if you’re experiencing pain in the fingers, forearm, or wrist for a few days. Certainly, if you have joint deformities, visit an expert before the condition worsens.

Conditions That Hand Specialists Treat

People suffering from wrist, hand, or forearm pain could have one of these conditions:

Hand Injuries From Sports

The hand contains various muscles, bones, ligaments, blood vessels, nerves, and tendons. Injuring your hand during sports could lead to pain, swelling, and bruising.

Finger fractures and dislocations are common types of hand injuries from sports. The pain may be sudden and intense and can develop into throbbing or soreness for several days.

It’s crucial to see a hand specialist for proper treatment instead of ignoring the pain. Treatment is necessary to prevent it from healing crookedly or becoming infected.

A specialist will determine the extent of the injury and develop a treatment plan. Most likely, they will start with conservative treatment techniques to relieve pain. Specific treatment options depend on the type of injury, how severe it is, and where it is located.

Trigger Finger

Hand specialists treat trigger finger, a medical condition known as stenosis tenosynovitis. It occurs when the connective tissue (tendons sheath) becomes swollen. Swelling may limit the ability to move the tendon properly.

It is a condition where one finger gets stuck in a bent position. It looks like the finger is pulling and releasing a trigger. One experiences a feeling like a finger is holding onto something or a popping sensation.

Worse, the finger may get locked in the bent position, and it becomes impossible to straighten it. Prolonged irritation causes the tendon to be scarred and thickened.

This condition is more common in women and individuals with diabetes. It can affect more than one finger or both hands.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition caused by repetitive motions like repeated wrist movements or typing.

Such movements can result in pressure on the nerve that goes through the arm’s length. The nerve is known as the meridian nerve. Once the nerve reaches the wrist, it moves through a narrow passage known as the carpal tunnel.

The nerve controls the movement of the first three fingers and the thumb. A different nerve controls the movement of the pinky finger.

People with this condition experience itching or numbness in the finger and thumb. This feeling is often accompanied by trouble holding objects and hand weakness.

As the condition worsens, people experience muscle pain and cramping. They may also begin to lose grip strength. This is because of the improper function of the median nerve. Orthopedic hand specialists treat this condition before it becomes worse.

Arthritis in the Hand

The hand can also be affected by arthritis. It is a condition commonly experienced as osteoarthritis.

Many people with this condition have a hard time performing simple tasks like turning a doorknob or opening a jar.

Generally, it is associated with athletes or older people. It’s because they tend to put on a lot of repetitive pressure on the joints.

Contact a skilled hands specialist when you start experiencing symptoms of arthritis. In most cases, they use non-surgical treatments to address this condition.

Treatment may involve medication or splints during the early stages. But if it is at a severe stage, surgery may be necessary to prevent substantial functional loss.

A primary care physician who is not a hand specialist may not solve the problem. They may give medications to deal with pain and fail to address the root cause.

Traumatic Injuries

Orthopedic hand specialists treat traumatic injuries. They include ligament tears, finger amputations, and tendon lacerations.

They are skilled in reattaching tendons and also treat fractures in the wrist, forearm, hand, and finger.

Fractures are also part of traumatic hand injuries. They can result from sports injuries or an accident causing broken bones. Slamming your finger on a heavy object or the door can also cause broken finger bones.

Signs of a fracture include hand deformity, severe pain, or significant swelling. See a hand specialist as soon as possible. They will evaluate your condition and offer treatment for the injuries.

Tendonitis

Tendon problems can cause hand pain. Tendonitis refers to the inflammation of a tendon that connects the muscle to the bone. It causes stiffness and joint pain and can affect how the tendon moves.

When the area of pain is inflamed, it can affect the smooth movements of the hands and fingers. A hand specialist can treat it successfully with physical therapy medications and rest. But if it is severe and causes rupture of a tendon, you may require surgery.

Tendonitis can occur as a sudden injury. But the most likely cause is the repetition of a specific movement over time.

The repetitive motion can put stress on the tendons causing pain. Risk factors include participating in certain sports, working in particular jobs, or age.

Nerve-Related Issues

There are a lot of nerves that run between the shoulders to the fingertips. They are responsible for transmitting messages from the brain to the arm. Such messages help with reflexes, feeling, and movement.

Injuries to the upper extremities of the body can cause trauma to nerves. In turn, this interferes with the functions of the hand and arm. If the nerve is crushed or cut, surgical treatment is needed to restore the function of the arm or hand.

Common symptoms include loss of sensation or decreased muscle tone in the hand or arm. A specialist will use the latest treatment options to restore the function of the hand.

Hand specialists treat nerve-related issues. They include brachial plexus issues, peripheral nerve issues, and ganglion cysts.

They also treat congenital heart deformities like congenital radial club hand, congenital amputation, and polydactyl (extra fingers).

Dupuytren’s Contracture

Dupuytren’s Contracture is a type of hand deformity that develops slowly. It is a condition that occurs under the palm of the skin in the tissue layer. It often affects older men.

It typically involves the two fingers located far away from the thumb. Knots form in the tissue layer and pull the fingers in a bent position.

A person cannot straighten the fingers completely. The cause is unknown. No scientific evidence shows that hand injuries cause Dupuytren’s Contracture.

People who smoke, drink, or have diabetes can be affected by this condition. It is also a genetic condition. Individuals of Northern European descent have a high risk of developing it.

Dupuytren’s Contracture can make it hard to do some functions that involve the hand. The index and thumb fingers are not usually affected.

So, many people don’t have inconveniences with fine motor skills like writing. But as the condition progresses, it can limit a person’s ability to open their hand or grab large objects.

What to Expect During Your Visit

During your first visit, the specialist will listen to your concern. Then, they will take your medical history and perform a hand, arm, and finger examination. This helps them to develop effective strategies for pain relief.

The specialist will ask you questions about other medical conditions or previous surgeries. They will also want to know if you’re taking any medications or know of any drug allergies. Such questions are necessary, especially for individuals who have to undergo surgery.

Further diagnostic testing such as a blood test or an X-ray may be necessary. Such tests check for any abnormalities. The test will also confirm the diagnosis as it will help identify the causes of your symptoms.

Treatment varies depending on the severity of the injury and the diagnosis. Hand specialists will try non-surgical methods first. They include splinting, injections, medications, hand therapy, and other modalities.

Surgery is often recommended when other treatments fail. Or, when the hand has significant damage, it requires reconstruction or repair. Surgical procedures can include joint replacement, tendon repair surgery, or nerve repair surgery.

Choose the Best Hand Surgery Specialist Today

Now that you know who is a hand specialist, what they do, and when it’s time to see one, you need to choose wisely. There are many of them in the industry, so you need to research.

Identify one with the right qualifications. Choosing the best hand specialist increases your chances of successful recovery.

Here at Hand Surgery Specialists of Texas, we fix hands. We provide telehealth visits to patients instead of visiting the office.

Contact us today to schedule an appointment with Houston’s leading hand surgeons.

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The Hand Surgery Specialists of Texas offers diagnosis and treatment for hand, wrist, and elbow problems in Houston, using the most advanced and minimally invasive medical techniques. Our orthopedic hand specialists and hand and finger surgeons are waiting to provide you with excellent care at one of our hand care centers in River Oaks, Webster, North Houston, Katy/Sugarland, or Baytown

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