Preventing injuries of the hand and wrist
Give a hand. Shake a hand. Be on hand. There’s no disputing that hands are vitally important to our everyday lives. With more than 25 bones and an array of muscles, nerves and tendons, hands are more susceptible to injuries than most parts of the body. Because we rely on our hands for daily tasks, they are particularly at risk for non-life-threatening, repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) which can be both painful and debilitating.
Carpal tunnel syndrome
The most common RSI is carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), caused by excessive pressure on the median nerve. This is the nerve in the wrist that enables feeling and movement to parts of the hand. Often, patients with carpal tunnel syndrome wake up with feelings of numbness and tingling in their hand with their pinky left unaffected. CTS can impact hand function, particularly for those who use their hands for activities such as keyboarding.
Cubital tunnel syndrome
The cubital tunnel runs through your elbow and contains the ulnar nerve. This is the nerve that causes that “funny bone” sensation when you whack your elbow. When it is compressed, it can cause pain and numbness in the pinky (5th) finger and the ring (4th) finger. As the second most common type of nerve compression syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome, also known as cell phone elbow, is on the rise due to the use of mobile devices and computer workstations when people bend their arms or lean on their elbows.
Basal joint arthritis
Also called thumb arthritis, basal joint arthritis is caused by the wearing away of the cartilage in the joint at the base of the thumb. It’s a common form of osteoarthritis and can also be caused by injury. Symptoms include pain and stiffness at the base of the thumb, along with decreased strength and range of motion.
Causes of repetitive stress injuries
There is no single cause or risk factor for RSIs. Rather, there is usually a mix of habits and conditions that lead to the development of them. These include:
- Repetitive activities, such as typing
- Stress and fatigue
- Holding the same posture or position on a continuous basis
- Cold temperatures
- Vibrating equipment
- Prolonged periods of work without a break
- Carrying heavy loads on a repeated basis
There are a variety of symptoms of the affected area that can range from mildly irritating to downright painful, such as:
- Pain or dull aches
- Tightness and stiffness
- Numbness and tingling
- Sensitivity to cold or heat
Treating repetitive stress injury
If you’re struggling with symptoms of what may be a repetitive stress injury, the first step is getting evaluated by your doctor. An accurate diagnosis may require an electromyogram (EMG) test and a nerve conduction study (NCS) which can assess both nerve damage and dysfunction.
Once a diagnosis has been made, treatment includes:
- Anti-inflammatory medication
- Physical therapy
- Hand exercises
“Repetitive stress injury symptoms are typically mild and intermittent at first,” says Dr. Ashley Burlage, orthopaedic surgeon at Northwell Health. “Often changing habits, wearing a wrist brace and activity modification are enough to reduce the discomfort. Cortisone injections are a temporary fix and can help with diagnosis. But, they only offer temporary relief.”
If these non-invasive treatments are not successful in eliminating or reducing symptoms, surgical procedures may help. In almost all cases, surgery is an outpatient procedure. However, it requires time to regain strength and range of motion. Thus, it’s important to carefully discuss all options carefully with your doctor.
Learn more about repetitive stress injuries of the hand and wrist. At Katz Institute for Women’s Health, we’re here to answer your questions. Call the Katz Institute for Women’s Health Resource Center at 855-850-5494 to speak to a women’s health specialist.