With so many bones, ligaments, tendons, and joints keeping hands and wrists working, there is ample opportunity for injury. In fact, injuries to the hand and wrists are some of the most common ailments facing athletes. If managed properly, however, most athletes can expect their injury to heal without any significant long-term disability.
There are a number of injuries that may occur in an athlete’s hands or wrists. They can be classified into two main categories: traumatic (acute) and overuse (chronic). Traumatic injuries are more likely to occur in athletes who participate in sports that require higher levels of contact (i.e., football, hockey, or wrestling), whereas overuse injuries result in athletes who participate in sports that require them to “overdo” a particular movement (i.e., baseball, tennis or golf). Some common traumatic injuries in athletes include joint dislocations, sprains, muscle strains, broken bones, tendon inflammation, and ligament tears. The most common fracture injury in the athletic population occurs in the fingers.
Overuse injuries are stress-induced and include tendon inflammation and dislocation, nerve injury and overuse stress fractures. Long-term disability is less likely to occur from overuse injuries than from traumatic injuries. However, if left untreated, an athlete’s sports performance may be significantly diminished. Surgical treatment may be required if an injury persists.
If you sustain a hand or wrist injury while participating in a game where an attending team physician is not present, seek immediate medical care if any of the following symptoms are present:
Contact your physician during regular practice hours if mild wrist pain, bruising or swelling after an injury persists and does not improve after two weeks. For minor hand injuries, home treatment, including rest, ice, compression and elevation to the effected limb can help relieve pain, swelling and stiffness. An anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen or naproxen may also be taken to help with the pain and inflammation.
Treatment depends on the location, type, duration and severity of the injury. While surgery is needed for some injuries such as ligament tears, medication, “buddy-taping” (taping the injured finger to a neighboring one for support), splints, braces, casts or physical therapy may be used as a treatment option. Your doctor will determine the best option, taking into consideration short and long-term damage; deformities, and stiffness.
Wearing wrist guards, gloves and stretching are just a few ways to help prevent a traumatic hand or wrist injury. You can prevent overuse injuries by taking breaks to rest the hands or wrists, using proper posture and technique and utilizing protective equipment.