Hand injuries can affect people of all ages regardless of their line of work. Just recently, American football star Tom Brady accidentally jammed his throwing hand after colliding with a teammate. Fortunately for him, there’s no structural damage.
Hand injuries can also happen anywhere whether you’re doing duties in the workplace, engaging in recreational and sports activities, or finishing up chores at home. It’s critical to diagnose hand injuries early so treatment can begin. Depending on the severity, there could be long-term complications if not managed urgently.
What are the most common hand injuries?
The hand is composed of several structures which are intricate and complex in function. It consists of 27 bones in addition to the ligaments, tendons, arteries, veins, nerves, muscles, and joint cartilage. Trauma to any of these can cause an injury.
The signs and symptoms of hand injuries may include pallor, bleeding, weakness, numbness, tenderness, deformity, discoloration, swelling, difficulty moving, blisters (for burns), and fever (if there is an infection).
- Overuse injuries. These injuries occur when there is too much stress applied to the soft tissues and joints of your hands such as when doing tasks that require repetitive hand movements. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common overuse injury that involves the hand. You might experience numbness, tingling sensation, and pain in your fingers because the inflamed ligaments are putting pressure on your median nerve. You can use a wrist support for daily activities to manage the symptoms of Carpal tunnel syndrome. You also need to limit doing activities that require repetitive hand movements.
- Laceration and open wounds. A laceration is a cut in the skin acquired from sharp objects like knives, hooks, sharp stones, broken glass, and machines. Other types of open wounds include a puncture, abrasion, and avulsion.
- Fractures and dislocations. These can happen during falls or while playing contact sports. Always remember to immobilise the affected area and limit movement.
- This may be a complication of open wounds such as lacerations wherein there’s the introduction of pathogens (disease-causing microorganisms) to the wound, leading to contamination and infection.
- Application of first aid treatment is necessary to limit the extent of the tissue damage. Severe wounds can limit functionality and may come with long-term complications if not treated immediately.
- High-pressure injuries. This occurs when a high-pressure injection device such as a grease, paint, or pressure gun inject and introduce foreign material (e.g. fuel or paint thinners) inside your tissues. Although usually caused by an accident, it’s often considered a medical emergency since delaying treatment for more than 6 hours increases the possibility of amputation.
What can you do to prevent such injuries?
- Avoid doing repetitive movements with your hands like typing, hammering, playing tennis, and playing musical instruments for extended periods of time. Allow your hands to rest and change your wrist position as often as possible to avoid adding unnecessary stress.
- Do stretching and other exercises to help strengthen your hands.
- Wear protective equipment such as leather or cut-resistant gloves when using hand tools and machines.
- Use your whole hand to grasp or hold heavy objects.
- Focus on whatever you’re doing. Sometimes, it only takes a split second of ‘zoning out’ to cause injury to yourself. Carelessness and distractions can harm you.
- Know the hazards when working with high-risk equipment and take necessary precautions.
- Be extremely careful when handling hot materials or solvents to avoid burns.
- Check tools and equipment if they’re still functioning properly; never use anything that’s broken or damaged.
How can you manage the injuries at home?
- Wash the wound to remove any dirt or debris. Immediately apply a direct pressure on the wound to stop the bleeding and, if applicable, elevate the injured part above the level of the heart. If the blood loss is severe, immediate medical treatment is needed.
- Fractures and dislocations. Apply a cold pack to alleviate pain and swelling. Splinting your hand can suffice as a first aid treatment. You need to see a doctor immediately to determine the type and the severity of the damage.
- Do not attempt to self-medicate with antibiotics. Keep the area clean and dry and go to the nearest emergency department.
- Remove any jewellery near or in the hand before the area becomes swollen because it can impede blood flow. If the burn is caused by a chemical, irrigate it with clean water before covering the wound to prevent contamination. Make sure, however, that the chemical doesn’t react with water. If it’s a thermal burn, cool with running water for 20 minutes. If the burn is severe, you need to go to the emergency department for it might require skin grafting and surgical repair.
- High-pressure injuries. Since this is a medical emergency, it’s best to bring the patient to the hospital as soon as possible.
Complications of hand injuries
Although a majority of these hand injuries are not new to the ear, overlooking them can lead to serious complications. The common complications of hand injuries include hand stiffness, weakness, contractures, infection, and loss of function. You might need to see a physiotherapist to regain the full movements of your hands and fingers. You also need to refrain from doing tasks that require excessive hand use and wait for your doctor’s clearance before you can resume your normal physical activities. In cases that require amputation, there are also prosthetic hands available.
When should you seek medical care?
It doesn’t matter if there’s no visible cut or injury because even slight tenderness and numbness in your hand may be caused by something more serious that requires immediate medical attention. Deep gaping wounds and burns need emergency treatment so it’s best to go to the nearest hospital or contact your doctor as soon as possible.
Hand injuries can be prevented if you follow safety measures when working or playing contact sports. However, accidents can still happen even if you’re extra cautious. The best way is to stay calm, manage the injuries with first aid treatments, and seek medical care.