Hand Specialists are Orthopedic Physicians who completed specialized training on the anatomy and physiology of the elbow, wrist, and hand. The interaction of the bone, nerves, muscles, and vessels makes the lower arm a particularly complex area of the body. Elbow, wrist, and hand injuries are nuanced because they may be caused by an acute injury or repetitive stress that compounds over time. The complexity of the conditions makes accurate diagnosis both challenging and important. Effective treatment relies on a correct diagnosis of the condition.
Why a Hand Specialist?
The fine motor control that allows humans to manipulate tools with our hands makes us evolutionarily unique. This adaptation is fundamental to day-to-day life, but we take it for granted until there is a problem. When issues arise, it is best to seek consultation with a Hand Specialist. They specialize in disorders and injuries of the elbow, wrist, and hand. Their practice focuses on diagnosing, preventing, and treating problems that cause pain and limit function.
When to Seek Consultation
Hand conditions may resolve with rest, require treatment, or only be correctable with surgery. Early intervention is critical because the sooner a problem is addressed, the less involved the resolution may be. You may dismiss some symptoms as part of aging or normal wear-and-tear. If you experience any of the following symptoms, it’s important to consult with a hand specialist:
- Pain or discomfort, even while not using your hand
- Persistent pain and/or stiffness when you begin using your hand
- Lost range of motion in the hand, wrist, and/or fingers
- Diminished grip strength or difficulty holding onto an item
- Pain, redness, or swelling that worsens during activity
- Pain that radiates into the elbow
- Tingling or numbness in the fingers or hand
- Decrease in the hand’s muscle tone
- Pain or difficulty performing everyday tasks like brushing your teeth or cooking
- Symptoms that persist or worsen despite rest
In cases of acute injury, like a slip and fall or sports collision, do not delay treatment. Symptoms like severe pain, swelling, bruising, an obvious deformity, and the inability to move your hand, wrist, or finger normally indicate a dislocation or fracture. You should seek immediate medical attention.
Common Hand Conditions
Numerous injuries and disorders affect the hands. If you suffer some sort of trauma, symptoms will likely develop immediately. Other conditions have a gradual onset from aging, repetitive tasks, overuse, or poor biomechanics. Over time, stressing the tendons, nerves, and joints of the hand will accumulate and result in pain or a physical limitation.
Arthritis affects joints in any part of the body. Arthritis of the hands is a common cause of pain, stiffness, functional loss, and immobility in the hands. Two types of arthritis usually affect the hands, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis often results from wear and tear over time. The repetitive motion from certain types of work or hobbies can cause the cartilage that protects and cushions the ends of bones to deteriorate. This results in painful bone-on-bone rubbing. Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the membrane that lines and protects the joints. This leads to severe inflammation in joints. The resulting pain may be debilitating and result in functional loss and immobility.
Several other conditions and injuries may affect the hands, leading to pain or functional limitations. Of note:
- Nerve problems including Carpal Tunnel and Cubital Tunnel Syndrome, these conditions result from pressure on the nerves caused by repetitive motion
- Hand wounds
- Dupuytren’s Disease, an abnormal thickening of the skin in the palm of your hand at the base of your fingers
- Sports injuries to the hand and wrist, including sprains and strains
- Tendon disorders and injuries may result from overuse or trauma, conditions include trigger finger, tendonitis, tenosynovitis, and de Quervain’s tendonitis
- Hand nerve injury, may alter motor control or sensation
- Wrist and finger instability
The correct treatment from an orthopedic doctor depends on the diagnosis and nature of the condition or injury. Hand Specialists typically rely on non-surgical methods as the first line of treatment. Possible interventions include physical therapy, splinting, medication, steroid injections, and rest. Based on the response to conservative care, or if there is a significant injury, surgery may be recommended. Surgical procedures include tendon repair, joint replacement and reconstruction, fracture repair, nerve repair, replantation of severed finger or hand, and surgical drainage for infections.