Whether it’s you or your kid on the field, court or mat, you’re likely well aware that sports accidents happen. Hand injuries in particular are quite common and account for one in four sport injuries.
Often these injuries are caused by traumatic events such as catching a ball incorrectly or putting too much weight on your hand when you fall. Hand and wrist injuries can also be caused by overuse or repetitive motions – for example, if you’re pitching a softball or swinging a tennis racket, you use the same muscle groups over and over again.
Below, we look at some of the most common hand and wrist injuries, and what you can do to prevent them.
8 common sports-related hand or wrist injuries
1. Sprained wrists and fingers
A sprain is an injury to one or more ligaments, the bands of fibrous tissue that help to connect two of your bones together. When too much pressure or stress is put on a ligament, it can overstretch or tear.
These types of injuries can happen if you twist your finger or wrist abnormally – for example, if your finger bends too far back when grabbing a loose basketball or if you fall on your outstretched hand when diving for a grounder in the hole.
Who gets sprained wrists and fingers?
Sprained fingers and wrists are a possibility for all athletes but are more likely if you’re in a high-impact activity or a ball sport.
What are the symptoms of sprained wrist and fingers?
Symptoms include pain and swelling in the wrist or finger that feels worse when you move the injured area – you may also see bruising or feel a pop when you move it.
What should you do if you have a sprained wrist or finger?
Often, you’ll be able to treat a simple sprain at home. After resting your hand for a day or two, begin moving the injured area as much as the pain will allow while protecting it from impact that could cause damage. The act of moving your injured wrist or finger brings fluid to and from the area, something that’s necessary for healing. Additionally, a small amount of stress on injured ligaments supports stronger tissue growth.
In most cases, you should see improvement quickly. But if swelling or pain continue for more than a couple of days, it’s time to seek treatment. Depending on the type of sprain, your finger or wrist can take weeks or months to heal completely. If the sprain is minor, it could heal pretty quickly – within a few weeks. For more serious injuries, it may be months before you’re fully healed.
2. Jammed finger
A jammed finger is an injury that affects the tip of your finger or thumb. This type of sports finger injury happens when an object strikes the tip of the finger or thumb when it’s fully extended.
This impact can push your finger backwards into your hand, causing the ligaments in your finger to stretch too far. In some cases, the ligament may tear, resulting in a finger sprain.
Who gets jammed fingers?
These injuries are most common in sports where you hold the ball while playing or try to catch the ball with your bare hands. People who play sports like basketball, football and volleyball are more likely to get jammed fingers.
What are the symptoms of jammed fingers?
If you have a jammed finger, you’ll likely notice pain, swelling and redness in the top half of your finger. It will also be difficult to bend or move your finger. If you can’t straighten the tip of your finger at all, you may have mallet finger, which is an injury we’ll cover in the next section.
What should you do if you think you have a jammed finger?
One thing you shouldn’t do is pull on your finger to try to realign it – that can just make things worse.
Talk to your coach, doctor or hand specialist about how to treat your jammed finger at home. Your injury should start to look better in a day or two and should heal in about two weeks. But if you don’t see improvement, make an appointment with a doctor or hand specialist. You could have a broken bone that requires additional treatment.
3. Mallet finger
Mallet fingers are like jammed fingers in that they affect the end or tip of an athlete’s finger or thumb. However, mallet fingers are more severe than jammed fingers and require additional care.
A mallet finger is caused by a powerful impact to the fingertip, or extreme bending of your finger. In both cases, the force against your finger or thumb causes an injury to the fingertip that prevents you from being able to straighten it. You will notice that you are unable to keep your finger straight without supporting it. This type of injury can affect either the tendon that straightens the tip of the finger or the bone.
Who gets mallet finger?
While this injury can happen from everyday tasks, it commonly occurs in sports when gameplay includes the use of a ball. So, people who play baseball, basketball and football can get mallet finger.
What are the symptoms of mallet finger?
The most noticeable symptom of mallet finger is that the tip of the finger droops and you can’t straighten it on your own. Other symptoms include pain, swelling and tenderness near the injury. In some cases, blood can pool beneath the fingernail or your nail can become detached.
What should you do if you think you have a mallet finger?
This type of injury needs prompt medical attention, so head to orthopedic urgent care as soon as possible. They’ll be able to assess your injury and make sure you receive timely treatment. Delaying treatment could result in finger deformity.
4. Skier’s thumb
This is an injury that happens when your thumb is bent too far backwards. Most often, skier’s thumb is the result of a fall. For instance, when a skier falls on their hand while gripping a ski pole.
The force of impact injures the ligament at the base of your thumb – the ligament will be overstretched or possibly torn, causing a severe sprain.
Who gets skier’s thumb?
Skiers, of course, are prone to this injury. But athletes in all sports can get skier’s thumb if they fall on an outstretched hand and thumb.
What are the symptoms of skier’s thumb?
With skier’s thumb, you’ll have pain, redness and swelling that starts where your thumb meets your palm. Sometimes these symptoms can spread to the rest of the hand. You may also find it hard to pick up or hold things.
What should you do if you think you have skier’s thumb?
Skier’s thumb is an injury that needs to be treated by a doctor. Depending on your injury, your doctor might want to see you right away or suggest you start treatment at home.
5. Metacarpal fractures
Metacarpals are the bones in your hand that span the space between your knuckles and your wrist. Metacarpal fractures account for about one in 10 fractures.
Who gets metacarpal fractures?
Metacarpal fractures can happen in any sport where it’s possible to have a high-energy impact against your hand. These injuries are often associated with boxers and people who participate in mixed martial arts – sometimes they’re even called a “boxer’s fracture.” But these types of injuries also happen to other athletes. For instance, we see metacarpal fractures in hockey players who have crashed their hands against the boards, the ice or another player’s helmet.
What are the symptoms of metacarpal fractures?
If you have a metacarpal fracture, you’ll likely experience pain or tenderness across the back of your hand or palm. You may also notice swelling and bruising. When you make a fist, you may hear rubbing and be able to see that your fingers aren’t lining up correctly – and it may hurt a lot.
What should you do if you have a metacarpal fracture?
If there’s bleeding, clean it and apply pressure to stop the bleeding. This injury requires immediate medical attention. If you’re experiencing a lot of hand pain and swelling or are unsure about your injury, see a doctor or hand specialist as soon as possible to rule out a metacarpal fracture.
6. Broken wrist
The wrist is a complex joint made up of eight small wrist bones, called carpal bones, and the ends of your two forearm bones, the radius and the ulna.
A break can happen anywhere in the wrist joint. However, if you get a wrist fracture, it’s usually in the distal radius, the place where the radius bone connects with the wrist joint.
Wrist fractures typically happen when you fall onto an outstretched hand. However, they can also occur because of a direct impact to the wrist from a hard object like a puck or a hockey stick.
Who gets broken wrists?
Sport-related wrist fractures are possible across most sports because there’s always the potential to fall. However, some athletes like inline and figure skaters, and snowboarders may be at greater risk.
What are the symptoms of a broken wrist?
You can expect pain, swelling and tenderness near your wrist. And, it will probably be difficult and painful to move your wrist or thumb.
It can be hard to tell the difference between a sprained wrist and a broken wrist as many of the symptoms are the same. But if it’s a broken wrist bone, your wrist pain is more likely to stick around. If you continue to have pain on the thumb side of your wrist, seek additional medical attention to rule out a scaphoid fracture.
What should you do if you think you have a broken wrist?
You’ll need medical treatment for a wrist fracture, and the sooner the better. But if you’re not sure if your wrist is broken or sprained, it’s okay to wait a day to see if your symptoms get better with at-home therapy. Of course, if your wrist is bent or there’s an obvious deformity, see a doctor right away.
7. De Quervain’s tenosynovitis
De Quervain’s tenosynovitis (a type of tendonitis) is an overuse injury that affects your forearm, wrist and thumb.
Over time, repetitive wrist motions can cause inflammation and swelling in the tendons along the thumb side of your wrist. When the tendon is swollen it won’t move as smoothly, and wrist and thumb motions can cause pain.
Who gets De Quervain’s syndrome?
This type of tendonitis can affect athletes who play a sport or a position that results in repetitive movements of the hand or wrist. That’s why people who play tennis, baseball, softball or golf are more likely to get tendonitis.
What are the symptoms of De Quervain’s syndrome?
If you have De Quervain’s syndrome, you’ll notice pain, swelling and tenderness on the thumb side of your wrist that’s usually worst in the morning. It may also feel worse when you turn your wrist or move your thumb up and down. If it’s especially bad, you may hear or feel a snapping sensation when you move your thumb, or have a fluid-filled lump around the injury.
What should you do if you think you have De Quervain’s syndrome?
If you’re experiencing symptoms of De Quervain’s syndrome, take a break from your sport activities until you’ve had a chance to meet with a doctor. They’ll be able to determine the best course of treatment, whether that’s a cortisone injection or something else.
8. Gymnast wrist
Gymnast wrist is an overuse injury that’s most common in young gymnasts. With this injury, often both wrists will be affected at the same time. Gymnast wrist affects the physis, the growth plate that’s located near your child’s wrist. Handstands, tumbling and bar exercises can all cause repetitive stress and compression of an athlete’s wrists.
Who gets gymnast wrist?
This injury often affects gymnasts between the ages of 9 and 13 when growth plates are made of softer cartilage. As children age, these growth plates are replaced with bone, but until then children’s wrists are more susceptible to injuries from repetitive weight-bearing activities.
What are the symptoms of gymnast wrist?
In the beginning, your child may complain of a dull, achy pain on the top of their hand near the wrist. If it’s not treated, the pain will get worse. It’s also likely that there will be swelling and decreased grip strength.
What should you do if you think you or your child has gymnast wrist?
Your child shouldn’t put weight on their hands for about 4-6 weeks. It’s also a good idea to talk to their coach or make an appointment with a hand doctor about how to change behaviors, and activities to reduce symptoms and avoid future injuries. A comfortable wrist brace may also help.
Preventing common hand and wrist injuries in popular sports
There’s no way to prevent every break or sprain. However, there are things you can do to reduce the chance of some injuries, and the severity of others.
Choose the right gear
Start by choosing the best hand and wrist support suitable for your sport. It’s an especially good idea to wear wrist guards for high-risk activities, including snowboarding, rugby, football and inline skating. In many sports, there is gear specifically designed to reduce stress on your hands. For example, there are specially designed batting gloves that include pressure relief pads in high-impact zones.
Quality gear that fits well goes a long way toward reducing injuries – wearing the right-sized shoes, cleats or skates reduces your chance of tripping and bracing your fall with your hand. Choosing well-fitting gloves for hockey helps to protect hands from impact with other players and the boards.
If you’re not sure what’s the best protection for you or your child, talk to the coach. A hand specialist may also be able to provide recommendations.
Improve your form
Many sports-related hand injuries are caused by improper form – this is especially true when people are new to a sport. Learning to hold your hands in the correct positions may help to reduce your chance of being hit by an object such as a ball. Depending on your sport, your coach may also show you proper techniques for falling that will help prevent wrist sprains or fractures.
If you play a sport or a position where you repeat the same motion, you have a higher chance of getting a repetitive stress injury. Learning how to engage the correct muscle groups when throwing or swinging can reduce the chance of overuse injuries.
So, work with your coach to make sure that you or your child are using the appropriate technique for catching, throwing, swinging, tumbling or whatever the sport involves.
Give it a rest
If your hands or wrists start to feel achy and sore, it’s likely a signal that they need a break. So, hold off on participating in more sports activities until they feel better. If it seems like your hands and wrists are getting worse, make an appointment with a hand doctor.
Also, if there are guidelines for your sport, make sure to follow them. For instance, pitchers have recommended limits for the number and types of pitches they should throw each day. If you’re not sure how much you should be practicing, talk to your coach.
Take time off from your sport
Numerous studies show that youth athletes who specialize in a particular sport are significantly more likely to get injured (and reinjured) than those who play multiple sports or those who don’t train all year round. And the chance of injury is notable – in a large study, 73% of the single-sport young athletes were injured within a six-month period.
While it may seem unwise to take time off from training, it’s just as risky to overdo it – an injury could take you out of the game for even longer than a short rest period.
Most sports have off seasons. Use this time to rest or do a different kind of sport or training activity. This can lower the risk of injury while helping to develop a wider range of muscles and skills, as well as become a better all-around athlete.
Make sure to warm-up
Warming up literally warms up the muscles that you’re going to use during a sports activity. With warmer muscles comes faster reflex times so you may be able to avoid some impact accidents. Warming up also reduces the chance of soft tissue injuries such as sprains and strains.
Build your strength
Working out your forearm muscles can improve wrist strength, making injuries less likely. Here are a couple of effective stretches:
Dumbbell wrist curls
- Grab a light dumbbell.
- Holding your arm so that your wrist faces up, rest your elbow against your knee.
- Slowly lift the weight by curling your hand toward your forearm. Then, slowly lower the weight.
- Do three sets of 12 wrist curls.
Reverse dumbbell wrist curls
- Grab a light dumbbell.
- Hold your arm with your wrist facing down, resting your elbow against your knee.
- Slowly lower the weight by moving the back of your hand toward your forearm. Then, slowly raise the weight.
- Do three sets of 12 wrist curls.
Improving flexibility in your hands, wrists and fingers is another way to reduce your chance of injury. There are many exercises that can improve flexibility. What’s best for you will depend on your needs and the sports you play. An expert hand therapist can work with you to design a home exercise program customized for you.
We help athletes get back in the game
Not all sports injuries can be prevented. So, it’s important to know what to look for and when to get help.
- If you think it’s a break, make an appointment to see a hand specialist as soon as possible. But if you or your child are experiencing severe pain, head to orthopedic urgent care.
- If you think it’s a sprain, it’s okay to hold off on seeing a doctor. However, if things aren’t better in a day, make an appointment with a hand therapist.
- If you think it’s an overuse injury, talk to your coach or a hand therapist about ways to heal and prevent future problems.
- It’s also important to maintain your athlete’s health and wellness with regular sports physicals, which screen for medical conditions that might make participating in sports unsafe. Learn more about sports physicals.