In everything we do each day, we rely on our hands to do some sort of function. The wrist and hand are made of many small bones, joints, ligaments, tendons that are intertwined to help move your fingers and wrist do perform daily activities. With a lot of use, the hands and wrist can become sore and painful, and can eventually lead to an overuse injury.
What are some of the things that can affect our wrists and hand and the pain we experience with them? The most common is repetitive motion. Motions such as typing on a key board, writing a letter or a dissertation (if you still physically write dissertations….people type them these days), texting, playing video games, washing dishes, driving too long…the list goes on and on. Anyways, the more repetitive motion we do with our hands, the more irritation and stress we can put on the joints, ligaments, and tendons as well as stress factors, in some cases.
Other situations that can cause wrist and hand pain can be from physical impact such as “jamming” or falling on your hands. Impacts can cause a fracture, as well as a strain or sprain. Even if you don’t injury your bones, you can possibly injure the nerves as well as cause tissue damage and swelling.
So what other injuries can take place in the hands or wrist? Commonly, people who do a lot of typing at their job can cause irritation to the wrist joint known as carpal tunnel syndrome. If you’re reading this and you type a lot at work, think about the angle of your wrists as you type. Are your wrists bending upward as you type? If so you may eventually develop this carpal tunnel syndrome. If you start experiencing tingling and numbness in your hand and wrist for some time and then unexpectedly feel a sharp piercing pain shooting up your wrist and up your arm, congratulations, you are most likely to have this condition.
Let me give you a brief anatomy lesson for. The carpal tunnel is a thin, narrow passageway between the wrist and hand that encapsulates nerves, tendons, and blood vessels. When your wrists are cocked upward for a long period of time, the tendons are put on a lot of stress and can eventually thicken to prevent. When the tendons thicken they can narrow the tunnel and cause the nerves to be compressed, hence the tingling sensation you feel. There are different options to relieve this symptoms including surgery or physical therapy.
A more traumatic injury can be caused by blunt force trauma to the wrist joint. For example, falling down on outstretched arms to protect your head from hitting the ground can cause this trauma and possibly a wrist sprain or break. A wrist sprain is an injury to the ligaments in your wrist. Symptoms can include, swelling in wrist, constant pain after the fall, bruising, popping or tearing sounds (yikes) and skin warmth around the wrist. If you feel any of these symptoms, time to see the doctor. Depending on the severity of the trauma to the wrist, your doctor will give you either surgical or nonsurgical options. Non surgical options may include immobilization of the wrist for one or more weeks for moderate level sprains. Surgical options will require rehabilitation and exercise to strengthen your wrist, which can take some time, upwards of several months.
So let’s say you have a mild sprain to your wrist. What can you do in the mean time before seeing a doctor. There’s a method called the RICE method—Rest for a couple days, Ice the injured site (but be sure to put a towel between ice and skin), Compress to reduce swelling in injured site, Elevate injury above the heart as to prevent swelling to pool in injured site. This method helps the healing process a little faster, if applied consistently right after injury.
There can be a number of ways of developing a wrist injury. If you have pain but are unsure of what to do or how to fix it, seek medical attention and then be sure to get physical therapy. Physical therapy is the best option to recover from a wrist injury. Physical therapy is the most conservative approach and in most cases, people who thought they needed wrist surgery may not after going to physical therapy. Cool huh? Physical therapists spend much time studying and analyzing how to most optimally treat all sorts of injuries. The physical therapist will sit down with you and ask you some questions about your injury, then provide you with information on how to best treat it through exercise and hands on. Just be sure when you seek physical therapy, learn as much as you can from your therapist and apply what they teach you outside of the PT office. I stress this because this will help your recovery move faster so you can get back to what you were doing before your injury. That’s what you want right?