Your hands are versatile enough to perform a variety of tasks, from gripping and lifting heavy weights to buttoning your clothes or threading a needle. But with 27 individual bones, 30 muscles and more than a dozen joints; plus a network of nerves, blood vessels and tendons, many things can go wrong. When it comes to hand pain, stiffness and soreness are the symptoms most often reported to doctors. Sometimes the symptoms are from wear and tear; other times they are the result of disease or trauma. Very commonly, hand pain is the result of years of overuse, which can manifest in conditions like carpel tunnel syndrome. Environmental and occupational dangers – such as frostbite or ill-fitting or damaged equipment – can also place your hands at risk. Even though hands can be painful from any number of activities – from sports to hobbies such as knitting or woodworking – there is a very good chance that your hand pain is being caused by your job. Here’s some more about how your hand pain diagnosis may be a result of your job, and what you can do about it.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome, which affects your wrist and hand, occurs when the median nerve, which extends from the center of your hand up to your forearm, becomes irritated. The tendons next to the median nerve become inflamed and press on the nerve. When this happens, expect a good deal of pain. While most often associated with typing or coding at a computer for hours at a time, carpal tunnel syndrome can also be caused by driving a vehicle for extended periods; using certain power tools or high-power equipment such as jackhammers; performing repetitive tasks associated with manufacturing; and even painting or mixing batter. Treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome include adaptive tools such as keyboards or writing utensils, braces, anti-inflammatory medications and rest. Your doctor may want to administer a corticosteroid injection for relief; he may also recommend dry needling or acupuncture to alleviate pressure and pain. As a very last resort and only in the most severe cases, your doctor may discuss surgical options.
While there are more than 100 types of arthritis, the most common that is caused by work is osteoarthritis. Often referred to as “the wear and tear” arthritis, osteoarthritis occurs over time, as the cartilage in the joints of the fingers and hands starts to wear down, leaving the bone and joint vulnerable to bone on bone grinding and pain. Treatment for osteoarthritis includes physical therapy, anti-inflammatories, strength training and a healthy diet. As the condition worsens, surgery may be in order.
A fracture is the breaking or cracking of a bone. Falls and other accidents at work do happen but overuse fractures are more common. Stress fractures, which consist of tiny cracks in the bone, are quite common for those who perform more manual tasks; more serious hairline fractures sometimes go unnoticed for a long time. Some fractures can be mended over time with immobility, ice, anti-inflammatories and stretching exercises. More complex fractures may require surgical intervention.
A dislocation is a joint injury that forces the ends of your bones out of their normal position. Falls, collisions, or simple mishaps on the job can result in a dislocation. Hand or finger dislocations can be treated with reduction (a doctor manually realigning the dislocation), splinting, or both. For more unstable or complex dislocations, surgery may be in order.
Tendons – the strong fibers that connect your muscles to your bones – can become inflamed, causing pain and inconvenience on the job. Tendonitis in the fingers and hand is a very common problem for those who are professional or committed athletes, as well as those of us who rely on manual dexterity to do our jobs. Trigger finger, golfer’s thumb, baseball finger are all descriptive names for just a few of the myriad conditions that can occur at work and affect the hands. Tendonitis pain can be treated with splints, casts, or braces to allow your tendons to rest and heal. Ice packs, anti-inflammatory medications or cortisone injections are also recommended as the condition becomes more problematic. Physical or occupational therapy is also effective to restore function and prevent future injury.
Hazards of the Job
At work, hands can become victims to a variety of mishaps. Whether it’s a dog bite, a puncture wound, frostbite or a laceration, fingers and hands are some of the more vulnerable parts of our body while on the job. Simple precautions like knowing your equipment, maintaining situational awareness and using protective gear all can help prevent hazards of the job.
If you are experiencing pain in the hands, shoulders, fingers, elbows or wrists, don’t leave your treatment to chance. Visit the experts who specialize in care of the hand to shoulder. At Greater Chesapeake Hand to Shoulder, our dedicated team of board-certified orthopedic surgeons and plastic surgeons will give you the care and attention to treat you and your family, hands down. Contact us today at (410) 296-6232 to schedule an appointment or consultation.