As the fall sporting season progresses, doctors are seeing an increased number of patients suffering from sport-related injuries. Two popular fall sports – football and volleyball – commonly result in injuries to the fingers, hand and wrist area. Hand injuries occur because the hand is typically in front of the athlete in most sports. Therefore it absorbs most of the contact. Because the hand does not bear weight in many sports, there is a tendency to overlook the severity of the injury.
There are two general types of sports injuries. An acute traumatic injury usually involves a single blow and can result in a fracture, bruising, strain, sprain, abrasion or laceration. The second type of sports injury is an overuse or chronic injury. These injuries happen over a period of time, and can include a stress fracture, tendonitis or epiphysitis (growth plate overload injury).
An article by Cory Darrow in the American Journal of Sports Medicine indicates that more than 150,000 football players under the age of 15 seek treatment for injuries in hospital emergency rooms each year. One of every seven severe high school football injuries (e.g., those that result in a loss of more than three weeks of sports participation) are to the hand, finger or wrist. Some of the most common hand and wrist injuries obtained while playing football are wrist sprains, finger fractures and wrist tendonitis.
A wrist sprain can be an injury to a muscle or tendon and causes pain, tenderness, swelling, redness and warmth to the touch. R.I.C.E. is the first line of treatment for a sprained wrist and includes: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Finger fractures are considered minor trauma but can become a serious problem if not given the opportunity to heal properly. The signs of a fracture are swelling, pain and tenderness, pain in the hand when you tap the end of the finger while it is straight, inability to move finger completely and deformity. To properly treat a finger fracture, you will need to see a doctor who will put the finger back into place and put it in a splint or cast to heal. Wrist tendonitis is an irritation and swelling of the tissue that surrounds the tendons of the thumb. Symptoms include pain in the front of the wrist, pain while bending and extending the wrist and swelling. Steroid injections and anti-inflammatory medicines are most commonly used to treat tendonitis. In more serious cases, surgery may be necessary.
Another popular fall sport that can lead to hand and wrist injuries is volleyball. Hand and finger injuries are common in volleyball while setting, spiking and blocking the ball. Most injuries occur when the ball forcefully hits the fingertips. According to volleyballheadquarters.com, the most common injuries are sprains and strains, followed by fractures, contusions and dislocation of thumb or fingers. The joint of the thumb is the most commonly injured ligament in the hand (known as a thumb sprain) along with finger sprains. To reduce the risk of injury, keep your fingers close together and loosely tape them if necessary. (Symptoms and treatment of volleyball injuries are similar to those listed above for football injuries.)
The good news is that most sports injuries can be treated effectively, and many people who suffer injuries can return to physical activity after recovering. Fortunately, many sports injuries can be prevented if people take the proper precautions. It is important for athletes to wear protective gear, regularly perform strengthening exercises, stretch before every practice and game and learn proper form and techniques. Additionally, athletes need to understand that they should not play through the pain. If there is pain or an injury, playing sports before it has properly healed could lead to further, more severe, damage.
If you have suffered a sports injury or are experiencing chronic pain that progressively increases with activity, it is important to refrain from further activity until you can be examined by a doctor. The doctors at Orthopaedic Associates of Michigan can determine the extent of your injury and the best course of treatment. For an appointment, please call 616-459-7101.
Sources: Darrow, Cory et al., “Epidemiology of Severe Injuries Among United States High School Athletes.” American Journal of Sports Medicine, 37, no. 9 (2009): 1798-1805. TeensHealth, Sports Medicine at About.com, Volleyballheadquarters.com