Unnoticed and unsung, healthy hands perform countless small tasks, from pouring your morning coffee to brushing your teeth at night. But aching hands transform even a simple task into a painful ordeal. Beneath the skin, your hands are an intricate architecture of tendons, joints, ligaments, nerves, and bones. Each of these structures is vulnerable to damage from illness or injury. Arthritis can make it difficult to carry a shopping bag. Carpal tunnel syndrome can interfere with your work and hobbies. Hand or finger deformities can complicate basic self-care routines such as getting dressed.
Hands are also a tool of communication, expression, and emotion. Your hands are the only part of your body that is nearly always visible, both to yourself and to others. People tend to be very conscious about the appearance of their hands, and hand pain or deformity can cause embarrassment and inhibition, triggering feelings of poor self-esteem.
Your hands may hurt for a variety of reasons, from the mechanical to the neurological. Persistent joint problems such as arthritis—which affects one in five American adults—are by far the most common cause of hand pain and disability. This report describes the many different forms of arthritis and ways to relieve arthritis-related hand pain, from use of assistive devices (tools and other gadgets that take strain off your hands) to medications and surgery. And although the prevalence of these disabling conditions is on the rise as the population ages, advances in artificial joint replacement hold promise for easing the pain and loss of function for people with severe forms of these diseases.
Another common cause of hand pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, affects an estimated 2% to 3% of Americans. Contrary to conventional wisdom, this nerve disorder rarely results from repetitive work-related tasks, as a growing body of research reveals. This report clarifies the confusion between work-related musculoskeletal disorders (also known as repetitive strain injuries) and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Other highlights include treatments for common tendon injuries that affect the hands and a new, nonsurgical treatment to ease a disabling hand problem known as Dupuytren's contracture. Finally, you'll learn how to avoid the most common hand injuries, including sprains, fractures, and amputations, and how to keep your hands healthy and strong so you can enjoy the pleasures of work, play, communication, and expression for years to come.
Barry P. Simmons, M.D.
Joanne P. Bosch, M.S.P.T., C.H.T.