Hand, finger, and wrist injuries can sideline athletes as well as less active people. After all, we use our hands in nearly everything we do — on and off the playing field. Our hands catch balls and hold children, hammer nails and pick up dumbbells.
That’s a lot of territory for injury to strike. Especially when you consider that the hand has 27 bones, many of which are fairly thin. Plus, only a scant layer of muscle and fat protects those bones.
The same is true of your tendons, nerve fibers, and blood vessels. As for your wrist, its delicate two-part joint allows it to bend, extend, and move sideways.
Sprains, fractures, and overuse injuries in the hand or wrist are fairly common. That’s why the American Academy of Family Physicians developed this handy symptom checker. Still, you should always see your doctor to confirm a diagnosis and get a recovery plan.
Here are some common hand and wrist injuries, what causes them, and recovery tips.
- What causes it: Your fully extended finger smashes into something or gets hit.
- What it feels like: It’s hard to bend your finger. The joint is swollen and tender.
- Treatment and recovery tips: Ice it, rest it, and tape it to the finger next to it. You can usually return to normal activity (just take it easy).
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- What causes it: Force applied to your finger displaces the joint (usually the middle joint).
- What it feels like: Severe and sudden pain at the joint. You can usually tell it’s dislocated because it looks out of place.
- Treatment and recovery tips: A doctor needs to manipulate the joint back into place. With minor dislocations, you may be able to return to normal activities quickly. Others require surgery and a longer recovery.
Wrist Sprain or Ligament Tear
- What causes it: You fall on an outstretched hand, or bend or twist your wrist hard.
- What it feels like: Your wrist will swell and feel tender to the touch.
- Treatment and recovery tips: Treatment and recovery depend on whether you tore any ligaments. Ice and rest may be enough to help you recover from a minor sprain. But a ligament tear may require a cast or surgery. It can take as long as a year to fully recover from a badly torn ligament.
Broken Wrist (Distal Radius Fracture)
- What causes it: You fall on your outstretched hand.
- What it feels like: It hurts to move your wrist, and it is tender toward the base of your thumb.
- Treatment and recovery tips: Your doctor will request an x-ray to confirm the fracture. You’ll likely need a cast for six weeks or so, plus physical therapy to regain strength. A more serious fracture may require surgery.
De Quervain’s Tendonitis
- What causes it: The tendons at the base of your thumb and wrist swell, often from overuse.
- What it feels like: It usually causes pain on the thumb side of the wrist.
- Treatment and recovery tips: Your doctor might give you a splint, which helps to rest the thumb and wrist. Injections often help to reduce inflammation.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- What causes it: Repetitive motion, especially one that makes your wrist bend in an extreme way. Carpal tunnel happens because this motion puts pressure on the nerve in your wrist.
- What it feels like: Numbness, tingling, or pain usually in the thumb and fingers.
- Treatment and recovery tips: Unlike an acute injury, carpal tunnel is a problem that usually develops — and worsens — over time. Your doctor will likely talk to you about using braces or splints, going to physical therapy, and/or modifying your activities. Severe cases often require surgery.
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The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, Sports Tip: Hand and Wrist Injuries. Link.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, De Quervain's Tendonisis. Link.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Link.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Distal Radius Fractures (Broken Wrist). Link.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Wrist Sprains. Link.
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