Definition and Overview

Hand problems refer to conditions, pain, or injuries sustained by any or all parts of the hand.

Hands are deceptively simple. They are composed of 4 different sections, and problems can begin in one or more of them. These parts include the wrist, which connects the entire hand to the arms. Any injury affecting the wrist can lead to wrist pain. The back of the hand, meanwhile, is called opisthenar. It is incredibly important since it’s where a bundle of nerves can be found. If one of these nerves is pinched or injured, it can lead to shooting and debilitating pain. At the bottom of the hand is the palm, which doesn’t have any melanin (hence, the color) any hair follicle. From the palm, digits known as fingers extend.

The thumb is a particularly interesting part of the hand. It is one of the body parts that set humans apart from our distant “cousins,” which are the primates. The thumbs are opposable fingers and they significantly contribute to a better grip.

On the exterior, the hand is covered by the skin. Inside, it is composed of more than 15 bones. And since there are bones, there are also ligaments, which hold all these bones together. The hand also has muscles. The fingernails, which are found in every digit, are composed of tissues from a certain type of protein known as keratin, which is the same protein that found in the hair.

The hands are responsible for a variety of essential life activities such as eating, holding, and even working (e.g., typing on a laptop or desktop PC, using the mobile phone, cleaning, etc.). Therefore, if any of the parts of the hands, including the ligaments and bones is hurt or injured, it may lead to significant decrease of mobility and poor execution of important activities, bringing down a person’s quality of life.

Causes of Condition

Wear and tear is one of the most common causes of hand problems. As a person ages, certain body parts such as the hands become more prone to injuries and conditions such as arthritis. However, even young adults and teens can experience wear and tear. These types of injuries are called repetitive strain, repetitive motion, or repetitive stress injuries.

A repetitive strain injury is a condition that affects the musculoskeletal system of the hands, wrists, head, and feet, to name a few. As the name suggests, it develops due to consistent use of the body part. According to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), it affects at least 7% of U.S. population. It also leads to 14% increase hospital visits every year. Some of the typical injuries include tendinitis (inflammation of the tendons), bursitis (swelling of the bursa sac, which acts as a lubricant for the tendons and bones), and carpal tunnel syndrome (which develops when the median nerve is irritated).

The cause can also be congenital, which means they develop during fetal development. Something must have gone wrong during the hand formation or there’s already an existing genetic defect or mutation. Two of the most well-known are polydactyly (presence of extra fingers) and syndactyly (two or more fingers are joined together). A hand may also be missing some fingers (symbrachydactyly). Some children also develop amniotic band syndrome.

Hand problems may be due to injuries sustained by the bones, tendons, ligaments, muscles, tissues, and even the skin. When the skin is scraped, for example, it increases the risk of infection that causes inflammation or in some cases, serious complications. The bones can be fractured, usually when you exert too much force or use them to support a body weight (such as when you use a hand to balance the body during a fall). Infections can also develop in the fingernails.

Sometimes too the problem is simply systemic. This means that it’s possible the origin isn’t in the hands, but since there are several nerves present in the back, the hands can still be affected. Parkinson’s disease, a progressive disease affecting a part of the brain and the nerves, can cause hand tremors and rigidity. Many diseases such as fibromyalgia and autoimmune disorders can also cause joint pains.

Key Symptoms

  • Swelling or tenderness in any area of the hand
  • Hand pain, which can range from very mild to severe
  • Inability to bend or move the hand
  • Shaking or tremors
  • Feeling of uneasiness or discomfort in the wrist and hands
  • Heaviness
  • Presence of skin conditions such as crusting, blistering, or rashes
  • Buildup of abscess or pus (usually a sign of infection)
  • Fever
  • Pain in the arms (since the hands are connected to the arms)

Who to See and Treatments Available

Different types of doctors can be approached depending on the actual cause of the problem. For very mild cases of inflammation, patients can refer the problem to their general practitioners or family care physicians. If the cause is a fracture or sprain, an orthopedic specialist may be the best health care provider to consult. If the pain or problem is due to an underlying condition, a specialist is needed. For instance, rheumatoid arthritis can be referred to a rheumatologist while conditions affecting the skin can be seen by a dermatologist.

Different kinds of treatments, meanwhile, can be carried out to restore or improve the function of the hand. These include:

  • Rest
  • Hot and/or cold compress
  • Wearing of special type of gloves to treat repetitive strain injuries
  • Using pads to lessen manual effort for motion and to provide cushion for the wrist and hands
  • Medications to control the pain or treat an infection. These drugs are designed to reduce the delivery of pain signals to and from the brain. Others are meant to treat the underlying condition. If this is taken care of, usually, symptoms appearing in other parts of the body, such as pain in the hands, are also minimized.
  • Surgery may also be carried out to treat fractured bones, pinched nerves, and congenital deformities. It may also be carried out to amputate the hand and/or arms in severe cases where keeping the limb can only be life-threatening. Certain hospitals are also carrying out hand transplants, although this is still subject to more research.
    References:

  • American Society of Hand Therapists

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