The hands are a very complex and important part of our bodies. Fit For Work Physiotherapist Tom McSherry explains how hand injuries can affect us, and how you can minimise the risk of injuring your hands at work.
Our hands are one of the most commonly used parts of our bodies. From driving or opening doors, to typing or simply holding a knife and fork, we are constantly using one or both of them. So when we injure our hands, recovery can sometimes be tricky.
The best way to prevent injuries in the workplace is to follow best practice procedures and health and safety policies of your vocation. No matter what kind of job you have, it is likely you use your hands to carry out the majority of your daily tasks. Whether you work in construction, an office, driving, cooking, or retail, you will be using your hands for typing, holding, picking things up, lifting, and carrying.
The types of hand injuries we can experience in our hands are diverse. They range from traumatic injuries such as lacerations or ligament damage, through to tendonitis (where a tendon is suddenly used significantly more than usual and becomes inflamed). Other types of pain can signal nerve damage or carpal tunnel syndrome.
The severity of the injury plays a big role in the length of time needed to recover from it. Sometimes an injury such as a sprain can heal in a week or two, while something like carpal tunnel syndrome can take up to a year to recover from. Continuing to use your hands means the skin, tendons and muscles are still going to be moving and stretching which can slow recovery. Gradually easing back into work after an injury is recommended to help prevent the injury from becoming aggravated.
Here are some tips for people in different occupations to help minimise the risk of hand and wrist injuries:
Sedentary role (such as an office worker)
- Take regular micro-pauses throughout the day
- Keep your keyboard close to your body
- Make sure your work station is ergonomically correct
Physical role (such as a labourer)
- Pace yourself and take breaks or pauses throughout the day
- Use the correct techniques for different tasks e.g. lifting
Hazardous workplace role (such as a miner)
- Vary tasks to avoid long periods of repetition
- Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as flame retardant or non-conductive glove and cutting guards
- Follow health and safety, and hazard management procedures
Early medical attention for hand injuries is important so that physiotherapists or hand therapists can begin treatment right away. Ultrasound, MRI scans and X-ray can all be used as tools to diagnose an injury and determine the likelihood of recovery and the recovery time.
If people stop their home exercises before the recommended time they can potentially lose movement or strength in their hands and develop pain again.
If you have injured yourself, or are experiencing ongoing pain, make an appointment with your GP, physio or hand therapist so that your condition can be diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible.