Recognising Common Hand & Wrist Injuries

When it comes to the military, even minor injuries to the hands and arm can have alarming consequences on a soldier’s ability to train and serve. When the dominant hand is negatively impacted by an injury, forget about it.

Whether you are at boot camp or training for one, don’t miss this quick guide to recognising common hand and wrist injuries:

  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: When the median nerve which runs down your arm to your hand becomes pinched inside the narrow channel in the wrist (the carpal tunnel), this can lead to symptoms of pain, tingling, and numbness in the hand. Carpal tunnel syndrome is largely an overuse or stress injury which results from prolonged, repetitive movement of the wrist. Most often, rest, ice therapy, and avoiding actions which exacerbate the inflammation can help to relieve symptoms of carpal tunnel. Left untreated, however, it can lead to weakness and faltering co-ordination between the thumb and other fingers.
  • Trigger Thumb: The tendons in your hand that help connect muscle to bone are all housed in their own sheaths which allow them to move and glide with ease. Overuse and repeated firm gripping (like of equipment, artillery, etc.) can inflame the tendons, like in the thumb, for example, causing them to rub with increased friction against their sheath. This condition is known as trigger thumb or trigger finger, and is marked by an audible popping or clicking sound when a finger is extended and bent. Sometimes pain will accompany this injury as well as limited range of motion. Treatment for trigger finger may simply involve splinting and icing the affected finger; in rare cases, however, surgical intervention may be pursued.
  • Wrist Sprain: Think your wrist is one big joint connecting your hand and arm? You might be surprised to learn it is actually comprised of multiple joints that connect a whopping 15 bones together including the radius and ulna in your arm and the metacarpals and carpals in your hand. These joints are held together with tough, fibrous ligaments and when one or more of those ligaments gets overstretched or torn, you end up with a sprain. Wrist sprains are common to contact sports and related activities like you might find in a boot camp, but they also occur frequently with falls as people tend to extend their hands outwards to brace themselves. Wrist sprains can range in severity from mild to extreme with the latter being the case when a ligament has completely ruptured. Pain, swelling, tenderness, and limited range of motion most often accompany a sprain and it is best practice to have it checked out by a medical professional. Rest, applying ice, compression, and splinting most often help a sprain to heal though surgery may be necessary in very severe cases.
  • Traumatic Injury: A 2011 report interestingly found an alarming number of non-combat related hand injuries among forces in Iraq based on a review of emergency department visits. These included injuries sustained by the hand when they were caught in closing vehicle doors, hatches, or turrets.

In addition to anatomical weaknesses and repetitive stress, factors at boot camp that experts say may increase the risk for hand injuries include poor equipment, distraction or rushing through a task, inexperience, and improper form when training.

What To Do If You Suspect a Hand Injury

In the event of an injury to your hand or wrist, take quick action with these helpful steps:

  • Ice injured hands with ice packs, a cloth filled with ice, or a bag of frozen vegetables. In a pinch, you can also make a DIY ice pack by freezing a resealable bag filled with dish soap.
  • Test your range of motion to gauge what movements are most painful and make note of what time of day you experience the most symptoms, i.e. carpal tunnel pain can be most severe at night when sleeping.
  • Seek a medical evaluation if acute symptoms like extreme swelling, pain, or discoloration are present.
  • As much as possible, rest the affected limb and wear splints, braces, or compression sleeves to provide added support and facilitate healing.
  • A good alternative to get short term relief for wrist pain is to apply some of these 10 acupressure treatments.

You can also take easy steps to prevent hand injuries in the future. These include:

  • Maintaining equipment and machinery (from the gym to the base) and checking that it is supportive and sturdy before you use it.
  • Stretching and strengthening the fingers, wrists, and forearms to offset joint stress and improve range of motion.
  • Wearing supportive orthotic aids if you have experienced a hand or wrist injury before.
  • Avoiding high-intensity workouts and training when your body (and mind) are fatigued.
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