Get a Grip on Hand Injury

Experts offer tips on avoiding everyday dangers

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FRIDAY, June 16, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Extending a helping hand to Americans, experts at the American Society of Hand Therapists (ASHT) offers these five tips on avoiding crippling hand injuries.

Hand injuries occur every day to people doing simple tasks like carrying groceries, preparing food, or even reading, the experts note. Some of these injuries lead to surgery or therapy to repair damage done to the hand.

"Using common sense and joint protection techniques can help to minimize potential injury or overuse of our hands and arms. Poor daily routines can add up to painful long term conditions unless you take proper care and precautions," Christine Muhleman, president of the ASHT, said in a prepared statement. ASHT has designated this week as Hand Therapy Awareness and Injury Prevention Week.

Here are five everyday tasks that can lead to hand injuries, and simple ways to prevent them from happening:

  • Carrying too many heavy plastic bags at a time can cause damage or strain from your fingers all the way to your elbows.

    "If you have to use plastic, carry one bag at a time in each hand. It would actually be better to ask for paper bags instead of plastic, and carry them using both arms under the bag rather than grasping them with your fingers," said Stacey Doyon, president-elect of the ASHT. "Always use two hands to lift heavy gallons, jugs and bottles."

  • Injuries from slicing bagels send thousands of people to emergency rooms each year, with many of these injuries resulting in therapy or even surgery to heal the hand.

    "Use a bagel slicer instead of a knife. If you don't own a bagel slicer, place the bagel flat on a table with your hand on top of the bagel and hold firmly," said Muhleman. "Use a serrated knife to slice halfway through the bagel, keeping the blade horizontal to the table. Stand the bagel on its end and finish slicing downward while gripping the upper sliced half. Never try to slice a frozen bagel."

  • Be careful when washing dishes to avoid grabbing or being cut by knives hiding in the soapy water. "We see people every day that put knives and sharp tools in soapy water and then search blindly for them," said Paige E. Kurtz, vice president of ASHT. "Many of these cuts affect tendons and require surgery and rehabilitation."

    Slippery glass can easily break in a soapy sink, so wash carefully. "A common injury reported in hand clinics are lacerations to the extensor tendons on the top of the knuckles caused by washing glasses. If you place your hand inside of a narrow glass with a sponge and squeeze the sponge, the pressure of your hand may shatter the glass, causing cuts to the back of your hand," said Kurtz.

  • Injuries can even occur from seemingly harmless activities like reading a book. "Constant pinching while reading increases finger and thumb strain and stiffness. Continuously pinching pages can aggravate the tendons and joints in the thumb and wrist," said Doyon.

    Instead, try laying the back of the book open in the palm of one hand for support, with the other hand palm-down on the inside of the book to prop it open. Or, set the book down on a flat surface, such as a desk or table-top.

  • Minor cuts and scrapes can become serious injuries if they're not properly cleaned and protected. "Untreated minor wounds can carry bad microbes that flare into dangerous infections," Kurtz said. "It's important to monitor even the smallest injuries to prevent them from becoming bigger problems. If an area of redness appears around the wound, or the cut becomes warm, larger or irritated, seek medical consultation immediately."

"Our multitasking lifestyles can really take a toll on our hands, wrists and arms. Most common injuries are caused by rushing around and trying to do too much, too fast. We take our hands for granted until we sustain an injury and can't use our hands normally to lift a cup of coffee or perform other daily activities that used to be simple tasks," Muhleman warned. "Then we realize just how important our hands are to our quality of life."

More information

For more information on preventing hand injuries, visit the American Society of Hand Therapists.

SOURCES: American Society of Hand Therapists, news release, June 12, 2006

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