After a hand or wrist injury, here's how you can return to play

Hand injury image

Written by Dr. Maureen O’Shaughnessy, an orthopaedic surgeon at the UK HealthCare Hand Center.

Sports and regular exercise can enrich your life and keep you happy and healthy. But physical activity also carries the risk for injury. Hand, wrist and elbow injuries are some of the most common ailments among active individuals.

Whether you’re a weekend warrior or a competitive athlete, here’s what you need to know about hand and upper extremity injuries and how the UK HealthCare Hand Center can help you bounce back.

What are some common athletic injuries you see?

We see injuries of all sorts and from all sports at the UK Hand Center.

For those who play tennis, baseball or golf, swinging a racket, bat or iron can transmit unusual force to your arm that could lead to injury. Athletes in ball-handling sports, such as basketball, volleyball and football, can sustain injuries like jammed fingers, joint dislocations and significant sprains. Contact sports can lead to falls or crush injuries that result in fractures or ligament damage of the elbow, wrist and hand. 

A unique athlete seen frequently in this part of the country thanks to our beautiful natural parks and the Red River Gorge are climbers. These athletes are especially prone to hand injuries, such as pulley ruptures.

Additionally, overuse injuries are common among athletes. Repetitive wear and tear from sport or heavy use can lead to tendinopathies. These include:

  • Tennis elbow.
  • Golfer’s elbow.
  • Triangular FibroCartilage Complex (TFCC) injury.
  • Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU) tendonitis.
  • Skier’s thumb.
  • DeQuervain’s tendonitis.

Due to the competitive demands athletes place on their bodies, we also treat nerve problems, such as carpal tunnel, cubital tunnel or thoracic outlet syndrome.

What can I do to reduce my risk for injury?

Prevention is key. This includes an appropriate stretching and warm-up program to loosen up your muscles and ligaments to help prevent damage.

Strengthening the small muscles in your hand and forearm, in addition to a strong shoulder and back with parascapular strengthening, can help you avoid injury. Proprioceptive training with a skilled therapist can help prime your joints and brain so that you can react quickly to painful stimuli and protect yourself from harm.

Additionally, “smart practice” is important. That means practicing for shorter, frequent periods of time rather than single, long periods. “Smart practice” can help shield your body from fatigue and injury.

Bracing and taping can also be beneficial, particularly with weight lifting and strength training to keep your wrists in a stable, neutral position.

When should I seek medical attention for an injury?

As all athletes know, some pain is good and indicates that you have pushed your body to a level where you gain muscle mass, improve agility or increase endurance. However, pain that persists when not in sport or that lasts longer than a few weeks warrants medical evaluation to ensure that nothing more serious is going on.

During our initial evaluation at the UK Hand Center, we will examine you and go over your medical history. We will sometimes conduct imaging tests, such as radiographs, to help finalize a diagnosis. We also have in-house hand therapists, in addition to a network of trained therapists in the region who are experts in caring for athletes.

When can I return to physical activity again?

My goal is always to return you to play as soon as safely possible. I work with you, your trainer and your therapist to devise a personalized rehabilitation protocol and accelerated return-to-play schedule.

Depending on the injury and sport, you might resume activity again with protective splints or taping initially. You can gradually wean from these as your hand returns to pre-injury state.

Why should I go to the UK Hand Center?

Finding a hand surgeon who is familiar with athletes and their unique demands is crucial for optimal care and recovery. Many of us are trusted providers for UK Athletics and have a passion for sport and for treating the athlete.

We are honored to participate in the care of patients who value their health and prioritize function and excellence in sport.

Learn more about the UK HealthCare Hand Center and the services it offers by visiting our website or call 859-323-4263 to make an appointment.

This content was produced by UK HealthCare Brand Strategy.