The human hand is an incredibly complex and delicate instrument. Composed of 27 bones, dozens of muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, blood vessels and skin, the hand allows us to grasp, touch, feel and manipulate objects with precision. The thumb in particular, with its opposable nature, provides the ability to grip objects and perform fine motor skills. Our hands are one of the main things that enable us to interact with the world around us.
Unfortunately, the hand’s complexity also makes it susceptible to injury. Hands are exposed and often the first part of the body to be injured in falls, accidents, sports injuries or trauma. These injuries can range from minor cuts and sprains to serious fractures, dislocations, tissue damage or amputations. Hand injuries are extremely common, with millions occurring every year. They can have significant impacts on a person’s quality of life and ability to perform daily tasks. Proper treatment and rehabilitation is crucial.
Common Causes of Hand Injuries
Hand injuries have a wide variety of causes, including:
- Sports injuries – The hands are particularly vulnerable in contact sports like football, hockey, rugby, boxing and martial arts. Injuries like fractures, dislocations and jammed fingers are common. Racquet sports like tennis can also lead to wrist sprains or tendon inflammation.
- Accidents and falls – Putting your hands out to break a fall often leads to sprains, fractures or even nerve damage in the wrist, hand or fingers.
- Workplace accidents – Hands get caught in machinery, suffer chemical burns, or get cut by blades or tools often in industrial workplace accidents.
- Car accidents – Hands are frequently injured when bracing during collisions or going through windshields.
- Medical conditions – Some medical conditions like arthritis can increase susceptibility to hand injuries.
- Repetitive stress – Repeated motions like typing or playing instruments can cause problems like carpal tunnel syndrome over time.
Common Hand Injuries and Treatments
Some of the most common hand injuries and their usual treatments include:
- Sprains – Overstretched or torn ligaments, treated with rest, icing, compression, elevation and sometimes splinting.
- Fractures – Broken bones, treated by realigning bones and splinting/casting to stabilize during healing. Sometimes surgery is required.
- Dislocations – Bone displacement at a joint. Treated by manipulation under anesthesia to reposition bones if simple, possible surgery if more complex.
- Tendon/ligament damage – Treated with immobilization, therapy, sometimes surgery.
- Nerve damage – Can cause pain, numbness, weakness. Treated through therapy, braces, sometimes surgery.
- Amputation – Surgical or traumatic finger/hand loss. Prosthetics, therapy and rehabilitation helps adapt.
Importance of Hand Injury Rehabilitation
While initial treatment focuses on surgical or non-surgical management of the injury, rehabilitation is extremely important for regaining optimal hand function. The intricate movements of the hand and fingers mean that any loss of strength, range of motion or coordination will significantly impair function.
Goals of hand injury rehabilitation include:
- Regaining mobility – Through stretching, range of motion exercises
- Rebuilding strength – Using resistance exercises, stress balls
- Improving dexterity – Manipulating objects, occupational therapy
- Reducing pain and inflammation – Icing, massage, medication if needed
- Adapting if disability – Learning to write, type or perform daily tasks in new ways after injury
This rehabilitation is a gradual process, starting very gently in early phases and progressively increasing activity as the injury heals. A customized therapy program will be designed depending on the type and severity of injury. If bones, tendons or nerves have been severely damaged, rehabilitation may take months and may not result in full restoration of pre-injury function. Patience and consistency in performing prescribed exercises is key.
Hand therapy techniques can include:
- Splinting/casting – Stabilizing injured areas to promote proper healing
- Therapeutic exercises – Specific movements and activities to increase strength and range of motion
- Massage – Loosens scar tissue and keeps soft tissue supple
- Ultrasound/electrical stimulation – Helps reduce pain and swelling
- Desensitization – Touch and texture exercises retrain sensation after nerve damage
- Occupational therapy – Relearn everyday tasks like dressing, writing, cooking
- Orthotics/prosthetics – Supportive braces or artificial limbs
Living with a Hand Disability
For some people with severe hand injuries, disability is a reality they must adapt to. This could involve loss of fingers or limited hand function after damage to multiple tissues and nerves. Extensive rehabilitation helps restore the greatest possible dexterity and independence. Assistive devices like splints, adaptive tools for writing/typing or prosthetics can maximize functioning. Occupational therapy helps people relearn essential tasks or approach them in new ways. Psychological support is also extremely helpful when coping with major life changes like the loss or impairment of hands.
While the road to rehabilitation can be long and difficult, support from medical professionals, therapists and loved ones makes recovery possible. Our hands are so central to our lives that suffering an injury to them can be both physically and emotionally devastating. However, the human spirit’s ability to adapt and find alternative ways to carry on in spite of disability is amazing. With proper treatment and rehabilitation, people can regain function and purpose in their hands, or learn to live full lives without them.