Accidents are just that -- accidents. Anyone can fall onto an outstretched arm during a soccer skirmish or daredevil skateboarding move and fracture their wrist.
But sports and exercise injuries to the elbows, wrists, and fingers often happen for other reasons. You overdid it, your technique was off, or you just weren’t in as good shape as you thought. Luckily, you can do a lot to prevent those problems.
Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are two common problems, and overuse and repetitive motion can cause both. They aren’t just for athletes, by the way. They can happen to people who use their arms repetitively in other ways, such as violinists.
Tennis elbow causes pain on the outside of the elbow. Repeatedly hitting backhands on the court can spur the condition. Doctors call it lateral epicondylitis.
Golfer’s elbow, or medial epicondylitis, causes pain in the tendons on the inside of the elbow, near the pinky side of the arm. Poor technique in hitting a golf ball can cause the pain.
Both tennis and golfer's elbow are degenerative conditions, meaning they get worse as time goes on.
Sports doctors will also see a torn ulnar collateral ligament, also known as the medial collateral ligament, in the elbow, often in baseball players. This ligament plays an important role in stabilizing the elbow in many other throwing sports, such as javelin, racket sports, and ice hockey.
Wrist and Forearm Injuries
You might fall and fracture an outstretched arm. It can happen in any sport, but skateboarding, skating, football, and soccer can leave people with wrist fractures.
Sprains can also happen when the wrist is forced backward, tearing the ligament that connects the bones of the wrist.
Hand and Finger Injuries
Rock climbing and football are two of the activities where this can happen. People can also break fingers by trying to catch a fast-flying baseball.
Thumb sprains happen when the thumb is pushed backward with force, causing the ligament to stretch or tear. Football, basketball, and baseball -- sports that involve catching a ball -- can lead to thumb sprains. Symptoms include swelling and tenderness, pain when moving the thumb, and inability to hold things between the thumb and fingers.
The hands can also have tendon injuries if the tip of the finger gets hurt. If you can’t straighten or bend a finger, see a doctor right away.
Treatments for elbow, wrist, and finger injuries vary, depending on the problem. But common therapies include: resting, icing, and elevating the injured area; pain medication; cortisone shots in severe cases of tennis elbow; splinting or immobilizing the injured part; and wearing a cast to allow a fracture to heal.
Some injuries require surgery, especially a tendon injury. For example, fingers may need surgical repair of the tendons in order for the hand to work properly again. Patients may also need surgery to stabilize a fracture or to treat a bone that hasn’t healed right.
Don’t overuse your arm. Across many activities, such as sports, people often overdo it. They love it so much, they practice all the time; or they have a demanding training schedule.
Not only should adults know their limits, but parents need to protect children from too much wear and tear. Overuse injuries in children and teens have soared now that many play a sport year-round, not just for a season. To make matters worse, many young athletes play in multiple leagues for the same sport, whether it’s baseball, soccer, or another activity.
The solution: Make sure that rest is part of their training, and limit how much you do of any activity. And if something hurts, stop! Continuing to exercise can damage more muscle and connective tissue and slow recovery. In contrast, resting the injured part aids healing.
Brush up on technique. It pays to know the proper techniques for any sport that you play. For instance, tennis players who let their wrists bend during a backhand have a higher chance of having tennis elbow. The same is true if they play with a racket that’s too short or too tightly strung, if they hit the ball off center on the racket, or if they hit heavy, wet balls.
Get in condition. Rather than jump headlong into a seasonal sport, get in shape for it first. While physical therapists or personal trainers may be able to help, you can also learn how to train the muscles that you need for your specific sport. For instance, there are golf conditioning programs. All-around training is a good idea, too, so your whole body is strong and you have enough endurance to keep up. Warm up first, too. Sometimes, these simple things are all it takes to keep you in the game.