Athletes can experience injuries to the bone, ligament and muscles of the hand and wrist from long hours of training and playing. These injuries can be repetitive in nature or can occur as a result of trauma. Contact sports such as boxing and volleyball put the hand at greater injury risk. Fractures are quite common as well as sprains.
Signs and symptoms of a sprain are pain, swelling and/or warmth in the affected area. A sprain can be confirmed by a physical exam by a physician, x-ray or MRI. Depending on the severity of the injury, a splint might be indicated to allow for full rest and healing. Pain-free stretching and strengthening exercises might be given under supervision of a certified hand therapist to maximize use of the hand after injury depending on the severity of the sprain and period of immobilization. Certain exercises such as weightlifting are contraindicated when healing from a sprain. If you do too much too soon or push through pain as you are healing from a sprain, you will require longer periods of rest and recovery. As you are healing, you should do activities that are pain-free.
One of the most common boxing injuries is a boxer’s fracture, which is a fracture of the neck of one of the metacarpal bones in your hand and typically happens when your punch lands wrong. Treatment for boxer’s fractures involves ice, rest and a medical evaluation. An x-ray is needed to confirm the fracture and to see if surgery is indicated. A splint might be needed to allow the bones to heal. Stretching and strengthening may be indicated once the splint is removed and the bone is healed. As you are going back to play, if it hurts to punch it is best to rest that day. Whether the injury is a sprain or healing from a broken bone, use pain as your indicator. Pushing through pain is not a good idea. In boxing, properly applied hand wraps and/or gloves help to protect the hands from the more serious injuries such as fractures. Proper training and rest before going into a match are essential in preventing hand injuries.
The most common injury in volleyball is a jammed or dislocated finger. This typically happens when there is a forceful encounter with the ball. Symptoms are pain and swelling and potentially a visible misalignment of the finger. If this happens, immediately ice the affected area and get an evaluation by a physician. Treatment involves the RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation), applying a splint or buddy tapes and in extreme situations, surgery.
For basketball players, dribbling, passing, catching and shooting the basketball puts the hands at risk for injury. It is typical for players to jam a finger when they come in contact with the ball. This injury, also called “basketball finger”, ranges in severity from a sprain to a fracture. Immediate medical attention is indicated with a jammed finger. An x-ray is still needed to confirm a fracture. If there is a fracture, immobilization in a splint or surgery may be indicated. Stretching and strengthening your hand on a regular basis will help to prevent an injury from occurring when playing.
Some injuries come with an easy fix while others will take time and longer periods of rest from play to fully heal. If you have to fully rest your hand to heal, you still can stay game ready by running, working on footwork and strengthening your core. General rules as you heal are to use pain as an indicator. If pain and swelling do not go away in a few days, seek medical attention. It is best to get good sleep, stay hydrated and be properly trained before the big game day.
Julia Doty is an occupational and hand therapist at the Orthopedic Physical Therapy Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. Julia has completed the Matheson Ergonomic Certification Program and offers complete ergonomic evaluations by appointment.