By James Richardson | Photography courtesy of OrthoMemphis and Verywell
With the beautiful fall weather, many people will be outside and active whether it’s for outdoor sports, planting winter gardens or even renovating their homes. Others may be inside doing repetitive work at the computer. Whatever the activity, it’s important to protect your hands.
“Prevention is the key. Be careful and know your limitations,” said J. Barton Williams, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at OrthoMemphis. “This may seem like common sense to many people, but it is beneficial to repeat saying it because it’s easy to overdo things with our hands.”
The human hand is a remarkable and complex part of the body. It consists of 27 bones, including eight in the wrist, many nerves, arteries and veins, muscles, tendons and ligaments, joint cartilage, and fingernails. And multiply all that by two. Because hands are so complex and intricate, they are particularly susceptible to trauma and injury as well as tendinitis from repetitive motions.
“It will take only one day without the full use of a hand for a patient to realize just how much hands are used in everyday activities,” emphasized Williams, who specializes in hand and upper extremity surgery and microvascular surgery.
Williams said the most common injuries to the hand are lacerations and falls, especially when outdoors.
“The most important thing regarding lacerations is cleaning the area with soap and water and then getting evaluated by a physician to ensure integral structures, such as the nerves, arteries, and tendons are not injured,” he said.
He recommends using safety gloves when working with sharp objects.
People tend to fall more in the winter, even in areas where snow and ice are not that common. “Being aware of potential slippery conditions and wearing proper footwear can minimize issues with this,” he said. “Falls can also occur with very simple daily activities indoors, and can result in hand injuries.”
Overuse injuries to hands and wrists are also common, especially for people who use repetitive motions like keyboarding, knitting, or hammering. Williams explained that these injuries are often tendinitis and usually will improve with a period of rest, immobilization, and activity modification.
When injuries do occur, treatment is usually customized for the individual as well as the injury. Williams explained that hand and wrist injuries can be quite different between patients. He also had some recommendations for immediate attention when unexpected hand and wrist injuries occur.
“Initial treatment usually involves immobilization to help control the pain. If a splint is not readily available, a magazine or bulky blanket or towel can substitute in the short term,” he explained. “Obviously, if there is extreme pain or significant deformity – which suggests a fracture – the injury is usually best treated in an emergency department or urgent-care center.”
Williams said most fractures in the hand, wrist, and arm can be treated non-surgically with a combination of splinting or casting. In the setting of unstable fracture patterns, surgery may be recommended after a further examination.
Williams joined OrthoMemphis in August. A native of Mason, Tennessee, and a graduate of Covington High School, he majored in biology at Harvard College. He returned to Memphis to attend the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, College of Medicine. He completed his residency in orthopedic surgery at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and supplemented his training with a hand and microvascular fellowship at the University of Miami.