There’s simply no way around it – we need our hands. It can be argued that the complex, flexible structure of the human hand is a large part of the reason why humanity has made it this far. But our hands, while amazing, are also delicate structures involving many bones, tendons, and ligaments that can be injured more easily than you might think. If your hands have been causing you pain lately or you’ve had a recent injury, you may want to reach out to GPOA in Pittsburg, PA to see if you’re qualified for hand surgery.
How Do I Know If I Need Hand Surgery?
The most obvious reason to seek surgery for your hand is if you have pain or immobility that prevents you from using your hand. In fact, any inability to use your hands as you normally would is a sign that something isn’t quite right with your hand structure or functionality. If you aren’t sure your hand pain is enough to qualify for surgery, then you should be asking two questions: Do you have symptoms of a hand injury, and do you have a hand injury diagnosis?
Do You Have Symptoms of Hand Injury?
The symptoms of a hand injury come in various different forms, and sometimes the symptoms themselves are minor or only last a few days. Some hand injuries, such as soreness that comes from overworking, do resolve themselves. Other hand injuries are more complex and may include symptoms such as:
- Swelling in joints or wrist
- Sharp pain when moving hand
- Cannot use hand
- Shattered bones
- Bones piercing the skin
- Dark bruising
- Numbness in your hands or fingers
Any one of these symptoms is a sign of a more serious problem. Numbness in the hands or fingers, in particular, is a possible sign of nerve damage resulting from overuse or a hand injury that has never been treated. Swelling in the joints and wrist, difficulty moving the hand, and sharp pain in the hands are also red flags to look out for.
Do You Have a Diagnosis of a Hand Injury?
Sometimes all a hand injury requires is ice, elevation, and a few days of disuse, such as if you have sprained your wrist or jammed a finger. Other times, you may have received a diagnosis for a hand injury that is more serious or that requires more treatment than you can get at an urgent care clinic, ER, or at home. Common diagnoses for hand injuries include:
- Wrist pain
- Carpal tunnel
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Degenerative arthritis
- Tendon ruptures
- Other conditions
Pain in the wrist can be indicative of a few things, such as a strain or a sprain, or even a hairline fracture. Wrist pain that worsens with movement but doesn’t seem to be caused by damage to a bone may be a sign of other swelling or injury that must be diagnosed by a hand specialist. Tendonitis of the wrist and overuse from sports (tennis and golf) may be a cause for wrist pain that needs to be treated by a hand surgeon.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common hand and wrist condition that is characterized by numbness in the hand. Carpal tunnel is specifically caused by median nerve compression, which is when a nerve in the wrist is pinched to the point of causing numbness and tingling in the hands, especially the thumbs and pointer fingers, and sometimes the length of the entire arm.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a very treatable condition and also has varying levels of severity. Some people who have carpal tunnel syndrome do not require surgery for treatment, but for those who do need surgery because the damage to the median nerve is too great, a hand specialist is the best option.
Broadly speaking, rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most common forms of a chronic autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack the joints in the body. In the hands, rheumatoid arthritis first presents as stiffness in the wrist, knuckles, and fingers; as rheumatoid arthritis progresses, inflammation, stiffness, swelling, and immobility of the joints will develop.
Untreated, rheumatoid arthritis can significantly impact motor function, increase the risk of infection, and cause chronic pain. The surgical solution for rheumatoid arthritis in the hands is to replace the diseased tissues around the joints with cushions to keep the bones in the hand separated.
Degenerative arthritis, also called osteoarthritis, is the “wear and tear” form of joint pain caused by overuse of the hands and wrists. Most people with degenerative arthritis are older and have had a lifetime of overusing the hands, causing the cushioning cartilage between the bones of the hands to wear out, which causes swelling and significant pain. Treatment for this condition is similar to the surgery used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.
A tendon rupture occurs when there is an injury to the tendon, usually caused by high-impact force or serious hand injuries that result in deep cuts, particularly on the wrists and the palm of the hands. Tendon ruptures can also be caused by sports injuries. The classic signs of a tendon rupture are weakness in the hand and an inability to bend joints in the hand without pain. Tendon ruptures may be treated with surgery or with other treatments.
Fractures are breaks in the bones that need to be set in order to heal. Bones that are broken in the hands and wrist can be hairline fractures, shattered bones, and clean breaks, and each of them can be repaired with surgery. Depending on the type of fracture you have, setting the bone may require invasive procedures and methods. Untreated bone fractures in the hand can cause loss of mobility and pain.
There are many other conditions that you may have been diagnosed with to explain the cause of the pain in your hands or wrist. For example, a slightly less common hand injury is a TFCC tear, which is when the cartilage connecting the wrist to the hand is damaged so badly it causes loss of mobility and great pain. Triangular Fibro Cartilage Complex tears are treated by removing the cartilage from the hand and may result in lifelong impairment.
How Is My Qualification for Surgery Determined?
If you do have symptoms of a hand injury or you have received a diagnosis from another doctor or clinic, it’s possible surgery to repair your hand is in your future. However, just because you have a referral to GPOA does not mean you will automatically receive a surgical solution for your treatment. One of our hand specialists will need to oversee your medical records to determine if your hand injury requires surgery or another type of treatment.
Consultations are the single-most-important step in determining if you require surgery to treat your hand injury. Consultations will go over how you were injured, the type of pain you have, and any other symptoms you have. If your specialist determines that you will require surgery, they will go over information such as how the surgery is performed and the expectations for your recovery.
Your hand surgeon likely will not be able to determine the extent of your injury just by looking at your hand. We commonly require patients to complete certain exams, such as x-rays and testing the strength and range of motion in your hand.
What Will Treatment Involve?
Your treatment will ultimately depend on the type of hand injury you have. No two hand injuries are quite the same, which means that your treatment plan will be tailored to your exact needs. For hand surgeries, it’s common for bones to be set back together, to remove damaged cartilage, and to fix ruptured tendons. Other aspects of your treatment may include:
If you have a particularly bad or complicated fracture, you might have wires or pins installed on the bones in your hand. Likewise, for those who have significant damage to hand cartilage or joints, you may have foreign materials like cushions, screws, and metal plates installed during your surgery to help stabilize your hand injury.
The majority of people who undergo surgical treatment for hand injuries will require a cast. Casts for wrist and hand injuries generally only go partway up the forearm and only make you unable to bend your wrist while the injury is healing. Casts are made out of a combination of plaster and fiberglass.
If you don’t require a cast after your surgery, you might be given a brace instead to keep your injury immobile while you heal. Sometimes patients who have casts are also given braces to wear after the cast is taken off, largely so the patient can continue healing without risk of re-injury.
Physical Therapy Rehab
The majority of our patients also undergo physical therapy to help rehabilitate the mobility of the hand and wrist. Physical therapy is often occupational, which means the goal is to help the patient relearn tasks associated with daily living. Rehabilitative physical therapy will help return the strength and range of motion to your hand, as well as teach you how to use your hand without incurring further injuries.
Patients are often in physical therapy for several weeks after they have healed from surgery. The amount of time you need to attend physical therapy will depend on your exact hand injury and your treatment, as well as how quickly you can progress through the therapy program.
How Long Will My Recovery Be?
The length of your recovery will also depend on your specific injury and the treatment you have received. For example, if you had a fracture that needed to be set, you may only be required to wear a cast for 8 or so weeks.
Other hand surgeries may require lengthier recovery times, particularly if the surgery itself was invasive and involved the installation of hardware. Your hand specialist will let you know how soon you can expect to recover.
Who Is Surgery Right For?
Determining your need for surgery will be done by a hand specialist who will examine your injury, as well as other tests you have completed. Patients who are qualified for surgery generally have a diagnosis or significant symptoms, such as:
- Numbness or tingling
- Shattered bones or bones piercing the skin
- Stiffness in hand joints
- Inability to bend or flex fingers
Ease Your Pain With Hand Surgery at GPOA
If you have pain in your hand or a hand injury that is intruding on your ability to function normally each day, you might need attention from a hand specialist to diagnose and treat you. If you want to seek more information about your qualification for hand surgery, contact Greater Pittsburgh Orthopedic Associates serving Brackenridge, Shadyside, Moon Township, Sewickley, and Cranberry Township, PA today.