The hand and wrist are very prone to trauma injury. Because the wrists, hands, and fingers move so much, there are a lot of tiny bones and muscles. In fact, roughly 25 percent of the body’s bones are in the hands. The body is a machine, and when a machine contains lots of small, moving parts, there are a lot of things that can go wrong.
Wrists and hands often sustain overuse injuries as well. Typically, poor posture, in addition to overuse, causes such injuries. Many times, the problem begins in the arms or back and the pain presents in the hands or wrists.
When people fall, they naturally extend their arms to catch themselves. That reflex normally prevents more serious injury, but often results in a sprained wrist. If the wrist bends too far backward, the ligaments stretch unnaturally or perhaps even tear entirely. Most people can treat muscle sprains at home by immobilizing the area, applying ice frequently, and elevating the wrist above the heart.
Thumb sprains are very common as well. They mostly occur in the ulnar collateral ligament, which connects the second thumb bone (the one below the knuckle) to the hand. These injuries cause pain and weakness, but they are usually not serious as long as the patient does not ignore the injury. If that happens, the ligament may never heal properly, and the weakness and/or discomfort may become permanent.
Sprains are nearly always trauma injuries, and nerve injuries are almost always related to overuse. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a good example. The median nerve and tendons start in the upper arm and pass through the narrow carpal tunnel in the wrist to the fingers. If the nerve is compressed, mostly because of overuse and poor posture, you can experience persistent numbness and tingling in the fingers because this part of the body loses sensation.
To prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, take frequent breaks at work, even if it’s just pushing your chair away from the screen for a few moments. Furthermore, arrange your workspace so the keyboard is below desk or tabletop level, to keep pressure off the carpal tunnel. There are lots of corrective wrist braces available as well, and these items help immensely.
Like all other bones in the body, hand and wrist bones can either fracture (break) or dislocate (move out of their designated position). Both these injuries cause pain and loss of mobility. Many times, it’s hard to tell the difference between a sprained muscle and a bone injury, so it’s a good idea to have a doctor or trainer examine the area closely. Further complicating this issue, sprains and fractures/dislocations occur in roughly the same way. If the bone is broken, something like finger splints for fractures may set the bone and allow it to heal without surgery; in other cases, the doctor may need to set the bone and the patient will probably need physical therapy. Supplement the splint with ice to relieve pain and reduce swelling.
Soft tissue injuries like these usually do not appear on standard diagnostic tests, so if your wrist or hand hurts and the doctor cannot pinpoint the cause, it’s probably tendonitis. Some common injuries include:
ECU Tendonitis: People who turn and flex their wrists a lot, such as basketball players or auto mechanics, often get tendonitis in the extensor carpi ulnaris which runs along the back of the wrist, because this tendon becomes inflamed.
DeQuervain’s Syndrome: This injury is quite similar. It has the same cause (repetitive twisting motion) but affects other tendons (the ones on the thumb side of the wrist).
Jersey Finger: If a finger, usually the ring finger, is forcibly extended, the tendons detach, and the finger cannot bend on its own.
Like other trauma injuries, immobilizing the area and resting it will usually correct Jersey Finger. For overuse injuries like ECU Tendonitis and DeQuervain’s Syndrome, try the same approach.