The hand is our most important connection to the physical world. It is a complex organization of bones, tendons and ligaments that work together to allow us to do multiple things: from playing piano, to picking up a fork and sewing a button. When it is injured or in pain, many of our basic life functions become a challenge, threatening our health and well-being.
Most of the time our body movements do not cause any harm; however, it’s no surprise that certain repetitive actions with our hands can lead to overuse. Finger, hand, or wrist problems can also be caused by injuries or the natural process of aging.
Here, our orthopedic and sports medicine specialists in Boynton Beach and Boca Raton describe a few of the most common conditions affecting the hands and wrists.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a problem involving the nerves, bones, and ligaments that connect the arm and the hand. It’s caused by pressure on the median nerve, which runs the length of the arm, goes through a passage in the wrist called the carpal tunnel, and ends in the hand. The median nerve controls the movement and feeling in all the fingers, except the pinky.
If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, you may feel numbness in the palm of your hand or your fingers. At the beginning, this may happen only at night because of your horizontal, relaxed position; however, the pain can evolve and may cause damage to your shoulder and neck.
Although most cases of carpal tunnel are treated by splints and improved ergonomics, surgery is sometimes needed to free the median nerve and restore feeling and movement to the hand.
Arthritis of the Hand
Arthritis – or the inflammation of one or more of your joints – can occur in many areas of the hand and wrist and can have more than one cause. The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, but there are more than 100 types overall. That is why proper diagnosis is really crucial, say our orthopedic specialists in Boca Raton.
Healthy joints move easily because of a smooth tissue called articular cartilage. It covers the ends of bones and provides a smooth gliding surface for the joint, which is lubricated by something called synovial fluid, which looks and feels like oil.
Over time, cartilage wears away, which may cause a form of arthritis called osteoarthritis, generally occurring in older people. The other common form of arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic disease that causes the joint lining (synovium) to swell, creating pain and stiffness in the joint. This can happen at any age.
Early symptoms of arthritis of the hand include dull joint pain or a burning sensation. It may not occur immediately; however, in advanced stages of the disease, it can even wake you up at night. Many people with arthritis complain of increased joint pain with rainy weather. Activities that once were easy, such as opening a jar or typing, become difficult due to pain.
However, arthritis does not have to result in a painful or sedentary life. It is important to seek help early so that treatment can begin. Depending on your age, lifestyle, level of activity, how far the arthritis has progressed and how many joints are involved, doctors may prescribe medication, injections, splinting or surgery.
While you cannot guarantee the prevention of arthritis, you can reduce the risk and delay the potential development of the disease now by changing your lifestyle. Our orthopedic and sports medicine specialists in Boynton Beach and Boca Raton advise working on your mobility to keep your joints strong, giving up smoking as it increases the chances of rheumatoid arthritis dramatically, and maintaining a healthy weight by adopting a balanced diet and exercising.
Flexor Tendon Injuries
Flexor tendons are the strings of tissue that allow you to move and curl your fingers and thumbs. Injury to them usually means that the hand is incapable of moving through its normal range of motion. For instance, a deep cut to the finger or the palm can interfere with the action of the flexor tendons.
In addition, these tendons can easily become detached from the bone, causing difficulty when moving the fingers. Treatment usually involves splinting at first, but most flexor tendon injuries require surgery to reattach the tissue and restore movement to the hand.
Sprains can occur in any part of the hand, but they are most common in the wrist and thumb. An overextension of the tendons and ligaments that support the movement of the hand, a sprain can happen as a result of a traumatic sports injury as well as an everyday occurrence, such as putting out your hand to brace a fall.
Treatment is usually conservative, with rest, medication, and physical therapy as the most common care options. However, if the sprain is severe or complicated by fracture, a surgical procedure may be necessary to surgically repair the ligaments and stabilize the hand.
Ulnar Tunnel Syndrome of the Wrist
Ulnar tunnel syndrome occurs when the ulnar nerve is compressed at the wrist. The ulnar nerve is one of the three main nerves that provide feeling and function to the hand. It travels from your neck down into your hand, and can be constricted in several places along the way.
When pressure on the nerve occurs at the wrist, it causes numbness and tingling in the little finger and along the outside of the ring finger. In addition, ulnar tunnel syndrome can sometimes cause weakness in pinching and gripping.
Like carpal tunnel, this condition is treated with splinting, removing the wrist from repetitive stress, and sometimes surgery to open the tunnel for the ulnar nerve. While carpal tunnel tends to affect the thumb and first two fingers, this condition is easy to spot if you have numbness in your pinky.
Compartment syndrome is a painful condition that occurs when pressure within the muscles builds to dangerous levels. This pressure can decrease blood flow, which prevents nourishment and oxygen from reaching nerve and muscle cells. Nerves die and the hand can become gangrenous.
Compartment syndrome can be either acute or chronic. Acute compartment syndrome is a medical emergency. It is usually caused by a severe injury. Without treatment, it can lead to permanent muscle damage. Chronic compartment syndrome, also known as exertional compartment syndrome, is usually not a medical emergency. It is most often caused by athletic exertion.
Need Advice? Ask Orthopaedic Surgery Associates in Boca Raton or Boynton BeachWhether it’s post-injury help or consultation about your first symptoms, our orthopedic doctors in Boynton Beach or Boca Raton provide total management of patient care in Palm Beach County. If you’d like to find out more about us, our doctors, and our facilities, or you want to make an appointment, contact us. We will help you stay healthy and happy!