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Health Center Today, January 11, 2011

Winter Wipe-Outs – Preventing Hand and Wrist Injuries

By Carolyn Pennington

Hand and wrist injuries can spike during the winter months when snow and ice make walking treacherous. It's not surprising that we injure our hands, thumbs, fingers, and wrists because when we begin to totter or stumble, we automatically try to break the fall with our hands. Unfortunately, breaking a fall with an outstretched hand can lead to strained or torn ligaments, fractures, and contusions.

Dr. Jennifer Wolf, orthopaedic surgeon with the Health Center’s New England Musculoskeletal Institute and internationally known hand specialist, says other common hand/wrist injuries in the winter are due to snowblower accidents or repetitive strain injuries after spending hours shoveling.

“Snowboarders and skiers also experience their share of injuries during the winter,” says Wolf. Skiers thumb is one of the most common skiing injuries and usually happens when a skier falls but continues to hold the ski pole. The thumb is bent back or to the side, straining or tearing the ligament.

Treatment for a torn ligament usually consists of a brief period of wearing a splint or cast for immobilization. Occasionally, however, with complete tears or displacement of the ligament, surgery is required to repair the injured ligament. Long-term problems can result from instability of the thumb. With proper treatment, however, the patient can regain full function and return to activity.

One way to avoid skiers thumb is to 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. A common snowboarding injury is a wrist fracture caused by falling incorrectly at a high speed. Always wear a pair of snowboarding wrist guards to reduce the risk of injuries and learn how to fall correctly - either on your backside or onto your forearms.