Avoiding Hand Injuries in the
By Jeffrey Humphrey, PT, CHT, CEAS
Springtime finds many of us working
hard outdoors, clearing away winter debris and preparing lawns and gardens for
the summer ahead. Yard work can take a toll on our hands, especially if we
overdo it. Hand therapists can find themselves very busy this time of year
helping people recover from hand injuries they might have been able to prevent
with some simple precautions.
The most common hand injuries
The most common hand injuries fall
into three general categories: repetitive strain injuries, tendonitis, and
carpal tunnel syndrome. Repetitive strain injuries result from repetitive
actions you do with your hands, especially while in a faulty position. Weeding,
planting, and digging all have the potential to result in repetitive strain
injuries. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration
(OSHA), any activity you perform for more than two consecutive hours or for
more than four hours a day puts you at risk for repetitive strain injuries.
Tendonitis is a repetitive strain
injury affecting the tendons that attach muscles to bones. Repetitive wrist
action can cause the tendons in your wrist to become tender, inflamed, and
swollen. DeQuervain’s syndrome is a common form of tendonitis that involves the
thumb side of the wrist and often results from excessive weeding, planting, and
hammering. Cycles of overuse lead to microtrauma, swelling, and pain, which
limits your wrist function.
Carpal tunnel syndrome involves the
median nerve, which runs all the way from the neck to the hand. The median
nerve, which controls sensations in the palm, thumb, and first three fingers,
travels through the carpal tunnel in the wrist. The median nerve can become
compressed inside this small tunnel. The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are
tingling in the thumb, forefinger, middle finger, and middle finger side of the
ring finger. These symptoms can be brought on by many common garden activities
when performed for long periods with your wrists and hands positioned
incorrectly. Vibration is also a risk factor for carpal tunnel syndrome.
Warm-up before you dig
Take a few minutes to walk around
your garden, warm up your muscles, and stretch before digging into your outdoor
work. These stretches from the American Society of Hand Therapists can help
prevent injuries. They should feel good and should not cause pain. Hold each
stretch for about ten seconds and repeat two to three times.
your hands together and turn your palms away from your body as you extend your
arms forward. You should feel a nice, gentle stretch from shoulders to your
your hands together and turn your palms away from your body, and extend your
arms over your head. You should feel a stretch in your upper torso, shoulders,
your hand above the back of your opposite elbow and gently push that elbow
across your chest. Do this on both sides to stretch your upper back.
4) Raise one arm overhead and bend the elbow.
Place the opposite hand on the bent elbow and gently
push the elbow back further, stretching your triceps. Do both sides.
one arm out in front of you with the elbow straight. With the palm facing down,
take the opposite hand and gently bend the wrist downward. Then turn the palm
up, and stretch the wrist backwards. Repeat with the other arm.
Safety first, for prevention of
wear task-appropriate gloves. Soil contains bacteria and fungus, which means
that even a small cut can develop into a major infection.
a break every hour or switch to a different activity, to avoid repetitive
strain injuries and muscle fatigue.
awkward motions by using better body positioning. Work with your wrists in a
neutral position by avoiding extremes of motion up, down, and sideways. Use
both hands for heavy activities.
well designed tools with padded handles to protect small joints and bones in
your hands and wrists.
a tool when digging into unfamiliar or new areas. Buried sharp objects can
cause lacerations and puncture wounds.
By following these simple
guidelines, you can lower your risk of wrist and hand injuries while gardening.
If you do suffer an injury, seek treatment from an experienced caregiver.
Humphrey is a physical therapist specializing in treatment of the upper
extremity. He is certified both as a hand therapist and an ergonomic assessment
specialist in the Department of Rehabilitation at Cayuga Medical Center.
Contact him about hand therapy or ergonomic workplace assessment at (607)