Fall sports are in full swing and participating in athletic activities can be rewarding and enriching in many ways, providing both physical and psychological benefits. However, there is always a heightened risk of injury associated with playing sports, and often these injuries occur to the hand or wrist.
Colorado Advanced Orthopedics, Sports Medicine and Spine’s (CAO), Dr. Justin Grant, DO, frequently sees these injuries in his clinic. “Many sports-related hand and wrist injuries can have a serious impact on your life,” says Dr. Grant, “they prevent you from performing routine daily tasks, as well as robbing you of the ability to pursue your favorite endeavors.”
Most sports-related hand and wrist injuries fall into two main categories – Traumatic (acute) and Overuse (chronic).
Traumatic injuries most commonly occur in high-impact sports and activities and are caused by a single event that damages one or more structures in the hand or wrist. Football players, basketball players, hockey players, skiers and wrestlers tend to suffer traumatic hand and wrist injuries regularly due to the nature of these sports. “Other non-competitive activities are also prone to traumatic injuries affecting all age groups,” says Dr. Grant, “this includes walking on ice, climbing ladders and ranch work.”
Common examples of traumatic hand and wrist injuries include: fractures, joint dislocations, strained muscles or tendons and torn ligaments.
Chronic injuries are typically stress induced. “They develop slowly over time and occur most often in sports that require you to engage in repetitive motions which result in the overuse of a specific structure in the hand or wrist,” Dr. Grant says. Tennis players, baseball players and golfers typically develop chronic hand and wrist injuries.
Common examples of chronic hand and wrist sports injuries include: tendinopathies, dislocated tendons, stress fractures, nerve injuries, skin injuries/blisters.
“It’s impossible to eliminate the risk of hand and wrist injuries when playing sports,” says Dr. Grant, “sustaining trauma is inherently part of many athletic activities, as is overuse from engaging in repetitive motions.” Dr. Grant provides some preventative steps one can take to reduce risk of injury, which include:
- Wear protective gear – Wearing protective gear specific to your sport, such as wearing a helmet while biking, can provide considerable protection for your hands and wrists.
- Warm up – Make sure you warm up before participating in sports to make sure your body is ready to handle the impact associated with your favorite athletic activities. A proper warm up increases your heart rate and improves blood flow to your large muscle groups while performing sport-specific activities (i.e. high knees for running or ball tosses for pitchers).
- Vary your workout – Doing the same exercises or activities every day can increase your risk of overuse injuries. By varying your workout or participating in a variety of athletic activities, you can reduce the frequency of repetitive motions placing stress on your hands and wrists.
- Use equipment properly – Make sure you know how to use all gear associated with your athletic activity. Improper use of gear can increase your risk of injury.
- Take breaks – When your body is tired, you’re more likely to suffer an injury. If you feel fatigue setting in, take a break to give your body a chance to recover and recharge. Exercise with weight lifting and various forms of cross training during the off-season is an excellent way to decrease your risk of injury while improving your in-season performance.
- Work with a trainer – Working with an athletic trainer can help you develop the proper form. This will reduce your risk of injury and help you achieve peak performance.
If a minor injury doesn’t heal on its own after a short period of time, you should seek treatment from a sports medicine doctor to determine whether there is any serious damage to your hand or wrist that may require more extensive treatment.
Minor injuries can often be treated using at-home remedies such as: relative rest, guided by your athletic trainer and/or sports physician, using an ace bandage or some other compression garment, elevating the hand and wrist to reduce pain and swelling and anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen.
“If you’ve suffered a more serious injury, you should get examined by a sports medicine physician right away,” says Dr. Grant. In general, the following symptoms require immediate medical attention:
- Severe pain or swelling
- A clicking, grating or shifting noise when moving your hand, wrist or fingers
- Coldness or a grayish color in the hand, fingers or wrist