What Is a Hand Surgeon?

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on July 10, 2023
3 min read

A hand injury can make daily tasks seem impossible. But that’s where a hand surgeon can help. These are general, plastic, or orthopedic surgeons who specialize in treating problems with your hands, wrists, and forearms. 

Also known as hand and upper extremity surgeons, hand surgeons reduce or get rid of pain and restore hand movement and function. Healthcare facilities and hospitals typically have a team of hand surgeons and therapists who specialize in preventing, diagnosing, and treating injuries. 

Hand surgeons focus on disorders and injuries of the:

Hand surgeons treat patients of all ages, from children to adults.

Hand surgeons must have a four-year college degree and complete medical school. A potential hand surgeon then enters a residency program for clinical training in one of three specialties:

  • Orthopedic surgery, which takes five years
  • General surgery, which takes five years
  • Plastic surgery, which takes five to seven years

After completing this training, hand surgeons enter a one-year accredited fellowship program where they learn:

The final step requires passing an exam to earn a Certification in the Subspecialty of Surgery of the Hand. 

Hand surgeons don't always have to operate. They treat various hand injuries including: 

 In addition to operating, they also provide nonsurgical treatment such as physical therapy.

Types of hand surgery

If an injury or accident does require an operation, hand surgeons first determine the underlying cause of the problem and then choose the best course of treatment. Types of hand surgeries include: 

Tendon repair

Tendons are fibers that attach muscles to your bone. Infections, trauma, or spontaneous rupture can damage the tendons and require surgery. 

Nerve damage

The hand has three main nerves. If any are damaged, it can lead to numbness and decreased hand function. Surgery involves repairing or reattaching severed nerves. 

Cleansing wounds and infections

Infections are a common reason people see a hand surgeon. Procedures include surgical drainage to remove an abscess or debridement (wound cleansing) to remove dead tissue and promote healing. 

Joint replacement

Also called arthroplasty, this type of hand surgery helps patients with severe arthritis. The surgeon replaces damaged joints with new artificial ones made of plastic, metal, silicone or rubber. They may also use a piece of your own tissue, like a tendon. 

Realignment and fixation

This procedure is used for fractured hands and fingers. The hand surgeon will realign the bone and uses rods, wires, splints, and casts, to immobilize it, or keep it still. This helps the injury heal.

Injuries and pain affect the way your body moves. The hand, wrist, and forearm area is sensitive and plays an important role in your daily life. Consider seeing a hand surgeon if you’re experiencing the following issues:

  • Pain in your forearm, wrist, hand, or fingers that lasts more than three days
  • Trouble using your hands for daily tasks
  • Bruising or swelling around your hand and wrist
  • Limited range of motion
  • Joint pain that doesn’t improve with rest
  • Signs of an infection, like redness or swelling around your wrist and hand 

The hand surgeon will typically start with non-surgical options, like physical and occupational therapy. These can ease pain and improve movement and hand function. Here’s what to expect at your first appointment with a surgeon: 

  • Review of your medical history, including past injuries and surgeries 
  • Discussion of your daily activities and possible cause of injury
  • A thorough examination of your hand, wrist, and forearm
  • X-rays and other tests
  • An initial treatment plan to reduce pain and restore mobility