Preventing Winter Hand Injuries
Pain from repetitive strain injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis can impact our use of technology. However, less often thought of, traumatic injuries that cause swelling and loss of motion can also limit our ability to type on a keyboard or hold a PDA or SmartPhone. I am currently treating a series of severe wrist and finger fractures from winter sports and falls. Here are some tips from Dr. Mark Pruzansky, a hand surgeon and sports injury specialist and the director of the HandSport Surgery Institute in Manhattan, who provides some ideas on how to stay injury free while skiing and snowboarding.
Preventing Skier’s Thumb (an injury of the soft tissue or ligament that connects the bones of your thumb together):
1. The best way to prevent a fall is to know your limits and choose only the slopes that are at a level appropriate for your ability.
2. If you feel that you’re going to fall, make sure to release your ski poles as soon as possible. Then, fall on your uphill side with your hands slightly in front of you and above your knees. Don’t fall back on your hands or on your side on your hands.
3. Use ski poles with a simple finger-groove grip for quick release. If you choose to wear wrist straps, make sure they remain loose so you have the ability to drop the ski poles quickly in case of a fall.
4. Symptoms of skier’s thumb can occur minutes after the fall that caused the injury and often include pain at the base of the thumb, swelling of the thumb or an inability to grasp between your thumb and index finger. If you experience any of these symptoms after a fall, you should contact a doctor.
Preventing Wrist Fractures (a common snowboarding injury which is most often caused by falling incorrectly at a high speed):
1. The best way to avoid a wrist fracture is to learn to fall correctly – either on your backside or onto your forearms. Because both feet are affixed to the same board in snowboarding, the natural – and most dangerous - reaction is to outstretch your hand to stop a fall, which puts you at risk for a fractured wrist.
2. Always wear a pair of snowboarding wrist guards to reduce the risk of injuries in case falls do happen.
3. Know your limits – falls and wrist injuries are most likely to happen to beginners who haven’t yet mastered their balance on a snowboard. Practice falling and going down easy slopes before you tackle more difficult inclines.
4. Symptoms of a wrist fracture include pain and swelling of the wrist, as well as possible wrist deformity. Snowboarders experiencing any of these symptoms should contact a doctor immediately.
Marji Hajic is an Occupational Therapist and a Certified Hand Therapist practicing at the Hand Therapy & Occupational Fitness Center in Santa Barbara, California. For more information on hand and upper extremity injuries, prevention and recovery, visit Hand Health Resources.