Common Hand & Wrist Injuries

With so many bones, ligaments, tendons, and joints keeping hands and wrists working, there is ample opportunity for injury. In fact, injuries to the hand and wrists are some of the most common ailments facing athletes. If managed properly, however, most athletes can expect their injury to heal without any significant long-term disability.

What Are the Most Common Sports-Related Hand and Wrist Injuries?

There are a number of injuries that may occur in an athlete’s hands or wrists. They can be classified into two main categories: traumatic (acute) and overuse (chronic).

Traumatic injuries are more likely to occur in athletes who participate in sports that require higher levels of contact (i.e., football, hockey, or wrestling), whereas overuse injuries result in athletes who participate in sports that require them to “overdo” a particular movement (i.e., baseball, tennis, or golf).

Some common traumatic injuries in athletes include joint dislocations, sprains, muscle strains, broken bones, tendon inflammation, and ligament tears. The most common fracture injury in the athletic population occurs in the fingers.

Overuse injuries are stress-induced and include tendon inflammation and dislocation, nerve injury, and over use stress fractures. Long-term disability is less likely to occur from overuse injuries than from traumatic injuries. However, if left untreated, an athlete’s sports performance may be significantly diminished. Surgical treatment may be required if an injury persists.

What Should I Do If I Injure My Hand or Wrist?

Should you sustain a hand or wrist injury while participating in a game where an attending team physician is not present, seek immediate medical care if any of the following symptoms are present:

  • Severe pain 
  • Severe swelling 
  • Numbness 
  • Coldness or grayness in the finger, hand, or wrist 
  • Abnormal twisting or bending of the finger or hand 
  • A clicking, grating, or shifting noise while moving your finger, hand, or wrist 
  • Bleeding that does not slow and persists for more than 15 minutes.

Contact your physician during regular practice hours if mild wrist pain, bruising, or swelling after an injury persists and does not improve after two weeks.

For minor hand injuries, home treatment, including rest, ice, compression, and elevation to the effected limb can help relieve pain, swelling, and stiffness. An anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen or naproxen may also be taken to help with the pain and inflammation.

What Treatment Options Are Available for Hand and Wrist Injuries?

Treatment depends on the location, type, duration, and severity of the injury. While surgery is needed for some injuries, such as ligament tears, medication, “buddy-taping” (taping the injured finger to a neighboring one for support), splints, braces, casts, or physical therapy may be used as a treatment option. Your doctor will determine the best option, taking into consideration short and long-term damage; deformities, and stiffness.

How Can I Prevent a Hand or Wrist Injury?

Wearing wrist guards, gloves, and stretching are just a few ways to help prevent a traumatic hand or wrist injury. You can prevent overuse injuries by taking breaks to rest the hands or wrists, using proper posture and technique, and utilizing protective equipment.

Common Hand and Wrist Injuries

Injury Causes/Description Symptoms Treatment Return to Play
Jammed Finger Striking the end of the finger while fully extended Pain, swelling at the joint, difficult to bend, tenderness over the joint Ice, rest, buddy tape to adjacent finger As tolerated with buddy tape
Finger Fracture Force of contact overwhelms strength of bone (ball, ground, helmet) Pain, tenderness over the bone, deformity may be present Ice, splint, doctor evaluation, X-rays Only after proper evaluation, realignment from a physician, and wearing appropriate protection until healed
“Mallet” Finger Impact on tip of finger leads to rupture of tendon that holds finger tip straight Unable to hold small joint at finger tip out straight, tender just behind nail Doctor evaluation, splinting finger in full extension 8 weeks May return as tolerated in splint which must be worn at all times for 8 weeks
Nail Bed Injury Impact or crushing injury on top of nail Blood under nail, tender may represent tear in nailbed under nail If blood covers >50% of nail, need doctor evaluation may need repair of nail bed As tolerated
Finger Dislocation Force on finger overwhelms ligaments and joint displaces Most common at middle joint of finger, with visible displacement Relocation of joint best performed by doctor, may require local anesthesia and X-ray evaluation. May require surgery. After proper evaluation, use buddy tape or splint as determined by physician
Tendon Tear “Jersey Finger” Force of grasp with object (jersey) pulling away, ruptures tendon Most commonly seen in ring finger, unable to flex the joint at finger tip Needs medical evaluation within 24–48 hours, requires surgery, possibly within 10 days Only after surgical repair is fully healed. Early RTP places the athlete at risk of long-term problems with finger function and motion
Wrist Bone Fracture “Scaphoid” Fall on outstretched hand Pain with wrist motion, tenderness in wrist at the base of thumb Needs doctor evaluation may require special X-ray (CT scan). May require surgery. Not allowed until thorough evaluation by physician. If fracture present may be able to return with proper protection (cast) which is worn until healed.
Wrist Ligament Tear Impaction or twisting injury of wrist Pain in wrist with gripping rotation of wrist Needs physician evaluation, X-rays, possible MRI Not allowed until thorough evaluation by physician. Evaluation and early treatment can prevent long-term problems.
Ulnar Collateral Ligament Tear “Skiers Thumb” Tear of ligament that stabilizes the thumb with grasping Pain and instability of thumb with grasping objects Needs physician evaluation, X-rays, may need surgery or casting May return to play in cast protection.
Tendonitis Repetitive activity of one specific movement Tenderness over the tendon may feel “grading” over tendon with finger or wrist motion Rest, ice, limitation of repetitive motion, NSAIDS As tolerated
Stress Fractures Repetitive activity overcomes strength of bones and leads to small fractures Pain with activity, most commonly in lower extremities (running, jumping) Physician evaluation, X-rays, bone scans, may need casting, surgery, must have rest, nutritional evaluation Must rest and cease offending activity until fully healed. May need bone growth stimulator, casting, surgery
Growth Plate Stress Over stressing bone of still growing children, most commonly seen in gymnastics (wrist bone), baseball pitchers(shoulder, elbow) Persistent pain, tenderness swelling over growing bone, bone pain/tenderness Physician evaluation rest, ice, must cease offending activity Athlete cannot return to play until fully healed as growing problems can have long-term problems
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