USA TODAY High School Sports and the National Athletic Trainers’ Association have partnered on a monthly column to address injuries, prevention and related issues to help schools, coaches and student-athletes. Here is the latest column from Scott Sailor, the president of NATA.
The hand is one of the most complex parts of your body. The movement of the muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints allows you to do a wide variety of tasks that involve both strength and dexterity. This includes simple sport-specific skills such as catching a ball, gripping a bat or tying your cleats.
A significant number of sports-related injuries involve the finger, hand or wrist. These injuries can range from minor scratches and cuts to more severe conditions, such as fractures and dislocations. Acute, traumatic fractures often occur in contact sports, such as football, hockey, volleyball and basketball. Chronic stress and overuse injuries are common in racquet sports and golf. In gymnastics, they are also common, as are traumatic injuries.
A wide range of seasonal activities can cause finger, hand and wrist injuries during the warm weather months. For example, diving from a high board can place high stress on the fingers and wrist when entering the water and can cause joint sprains. Water skiing can also cause significant hand and wrist trauma when falling into the water at a high speed. In baseball and softball, finger and wrist fractures commonly occur from the ball or contact with the ground.
Winter athletes, including skiers and snowboarders, also sustain injuries to their wrists, hands and fingers and often at a high velocity. “Skier’s thumb” is a specific thumb sprain injury from falling and having the thumb caught in the ski pole.
Some of the most common causes of hand, finger and wrist injuries in sports include:
- Falling awkwardly when diving for a loose ball
- Getting stepped on — especially with spiked shoes
- Sliding into a base
- Having sudden, or awkward impacts with a ball
- Grabbing or pulling on a jersey
- Getting thumbs and/or fingers caught in equipment such as ski poles
Here are some prevention tips to help reduce risk of hand, finger and wrist injuries in sports:
- Avoid wearing rings or other jewelry while participating in sports.
- Consider using a closed fist rather than an open hand for sport-specific skills such as serving in volleyball or blocking in football.
- Avoid overuse tendon injuries by limiting texting and gaming.
- Incorporate hand and finger strengthening and stretching exercises, such as putty squeezes and rubber-tubing resistance bands, into your practice and game routine; ask your athletic trainer for recommendations.
- Try thumb bracing for positions that require minimal catching (e.g. football lineman); this may provide additional support.
- Ask your athletic trainer if bracing or taping mildly injured fingers during practice and games is recommended for your specific injury. If so, it can help to reduce more serious damage.
- Understand that the skill and movement requirements of the position you play is important, regardless of your sport. Refrain from playing through pain.
Hand, finger and wrist injuries occur in most supervised and recreational sports. Understanding the skill and movement requirements of your sport or the specific position you play is important to ensure proper preparation and to reduce risk of injury. If you think you have sustained an injury, consult your athletic trainer or other health care professional. Treating acute injuries immediately and effectively can help prevent chronic conditions and set you on a course for a fun filled and active summer. Visit atyourownrisk.org for additional sports safety tips for athletes and parents.