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St. Mary's Center for Orthopaedics

Sports Related Hand Injuries

Hand, finger, and wrist injuries include fractures, dislocations, and sprains and often occur in contact sports such as football, lacrosse, and hockey. Hand injuries can result from a fall that forces the hand or fingers backward, a forceful impact to the hands, or a direct blow.

With so many bones, ligaments, tendons, and joints keeping hands and wrists working, there is ample opportunity for injury.  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.

Common Injuries May Include:

  • Skier’s thumb (also known as Game Keeper’s Thumb), an acute injury of the ligament at the base of the thumb is torn. This occurs when the patient falls forward and the thumb is bent backward.
  • Tennis elbow, an over use injury  (a form of tendonitis). A tendon on the outside of the forearm fails and begins to tear away from the bone. While this injury originates near the elbow, pain may extend down the forearm.
  • Golfer’s elbow, similar to tennis elbow, this injury affects the tendon on the inner side of the elbow.
  • De Quervain’s tendonitis, inflammation of the tendon that runs down the forearm, through the wrist, to the thumb. This injury is brought on by many activities including  golfing and fishing (particularly fly-fishing).
  • Wrist fractures, which can occur with many athletic activities; one of the most frequently seen injuries in beginning rollerbladers or snowboarders who tend to fall backward on their hands.
  • Jamming a finger, or “basketball finger,” occurs during any athletic activity where the hand comes in contact with a ball. This injury ranges in severity from a sprain to a simple dislocation that may be corrected when the patient pulls on the finger to a more complex, serious dislocation or fracture of the joint.
  • Tendonitis is an inflammation, irritation and swelling of a tendon. Tendonitis is most often an overuse injury. Often people begin a new activity or exercise that causes the tendon to become irritated.

What To Do If a Hand or Wrist Injury Occurs

Should you sustain a hand or wrist injury while participating in a sporting activity, seek immediate medical care if any of the following symptoms are present:

  • Severe pain
  • Severe swelling
  • Numbness
  • Coldness or grayness in the finger, hand, or wrist
  • Abnormal twisting or bending of the finger or hand
  • A clicking, grating, or shifting noise while moving your finger, hand, or wrist
  • Bleeding that does not slow and persists for more than 15 minutes.

Contact your physician during routine practice hours if mild wrist pain, bruising, or swelling after an injury persists and does not improve.  For minor hand injuries, home treatment, including rest, ice, compression, and elevation to the effected limb can help relieve pain, swelling, and stiffness. An NSAID anti-inflammatory medication may also be taken to help with the pain and inflammation.

The Importance of Prompt Intervention

If your pain progressively increases with activity and causes swelling or loss of range of motion, you need to see a doctor as soon as possible.  Any injury that results in swelling, numbness, intense pain or tenderness, stiffness, or loss of flexibility should be taken seriously.

You should also know the difference between soreness and chronic pain. Soreness is temporary, but chronic pain continues over a greater length of time. For example, it’s not always necessary to see a doctor right away if your wrist is sore, but you should schedule an appointment if the pain is worsening at any time. You should also see a doctor if your pain progresses from happening only after playing to happening during sports or if you notice it when you wake up or are doing daily activities.

The most important thing to do when you suspect you are injured is to stop doing whatever sport has caused the injury and see a doctor. For more severe or complicated injuries, it may be best to see a doctor who specializes in sports medicine.

The doctor will examine your injury and use diagnostic tools such as X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to determine the extent of your injury. MRI allows doctors to see soft tissues more clearly than X-rays or CT scans do.

Once the full extent of your injury is known, the doctor will usually start with conservative treatment techniques such as rest and ice to help decrease swelling. Pain relief and anti-inflammatory medicines may be prescribed. Splints, casts, and surgery also might be needed, depending on the injury.

The doctor may:

  • Recommend that you not participate in a sporting activity while you heal
  • That you may participate in your sport but use a protective device (wrist guard, for example)
  • That you undergo rehabilitation (physical therapy)

Sports medicine doctors will not recommend participation in a sporting activity if you are at risk for getting another injury or aggravating an injury you are recovering from.

What Treatment Options are Available for Hand and Wrist Injuries?

Treatment depends on the location, type, duration, and severity of the injury. While surgery is needed for some injuries, such as ligament tears and fractures, 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.

How Can Hand or Wrist Injuries be Prevented?

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 and using protective equipment.

To help prevent re-injury, be sure to warm up adequately before practice and games. Remember to take it slow when you first get back into your sport and gradually build back up to your pre-injury level.

Also, know your limits. If the previously injured body part begins to hurt, stop immediately and rest. Don’t delay in seeking medical attention if the pain persists. It’s your body’s way of telling you something is not right.