Our hands are important. We use them for grabbing and holding things, gesturing, touching, feeling, communicating, caressing, and feeding… without the use of our hands, we are handicapped. And because we use them so much and in so many different ways, our hands are constantly in harm’s way.
Hand injuries account for up to 30% of A&E attendances, and in the UK 110 people per 100,000 injure their hands every year. A Polish study revealed over 45% of hand injuries happen in or around the home, but there are things we can do, precautions we can take, to limit the risk of harm to our hands.
What are the risks to our hands?
There are so many – some dangers are linked to specific behaviours and seasons, others are year-round. Let’s check some common accidental dangers and see if they are seasonal or not.
Christmas and New Year should be a time to enjoy, but dangers can be just around the corner. Severed fingertips, a broken wrist, a knife through the hand, or a severely burned hand, with tissues or even fingers blown off by a firework – all are things doctors see more of over the festive season.
Firework injuries are definitely seasonal, as they only happen when people set them off. This means November, December and January will be the worst months for this in the UK.
Fireworks can be pretty to watch, but think about it, what are they made of? Inflammable materials, explosive materials (similar to gunpowder), elements like sulphur and lithium… each firework contains different ingredients to burn and sound different, but they all rely on an explosive and a fuse to ignite it. Sound safe?
Fireworks can go off earlier than expected, or the fuse fails and becomes dangerously short. The path of the fireworks can never be predicted accurately, you don’t know where the still-burning remains will land. If something goes wrong while you hold or light it – your hands are the first in harm’s way. Each year people lose parts of their hands due to firework injuries. This year, so far, is no exception.
Even sparklers are not safe, and really should not be given to small children to wave around. They burn at a temperature of 2,000 degrees Celsius, emit small burning particles, and stay hot for a long time after. So, wear leather gloves and have a bucket with water or sand ready to put them in when they have stopped sparkling but are still hot.
Know what to do if someone does get injured: Andy McNab, a hand surgeon in Oxford, explains first aid – extinguish the flames, remove clothing or rings from the affected area, 20 minutes of cool running water over the affected area, and keep the person warm. Then cover the burn with cling film, hold the appendage high if possible and decide if medical help is needed.
Over bonfire weekend in 2023, someone looked for advice on treating burns on the NHS website every 21 seconds. That is a lot of people! Let’s hope some of those were people doing their research just in case anything were to go wrong, instead of all being occasions where things had gone wrong.
Dangers in the kitchen
Most of us will have heard of avocado-hand. It happens mainly in young adults, and always the non-dominant hand as that is the one that holds the fruit. Most use a knife to get the pit out, but it can easily pierce through the avocado’s skin and your hand if the knife is not pointed away. And then you end up needing surgery to fix nerves, tendons and other tissues that may have been damaged. Similar things can happen for instance when carving a pumpkin. Always aim the knife away from yourself!
Other dangers in the kitchen are chopping vegetables; accidentally chopping a finger or by using a grater and grating your fingers. This can result in fingertip injuries, where a part of the fingertip can actually come off. Gadgets to hold the product you are preparing, or just eating that last bit of cheese yourself rather than trying to grate it, can save a lot of pain! Opening a tin or can is another accident waiting to happen, as it will result in sharp metal edges that can easily cut through tissue, especially if the lid is left up! Better to remove the lid completely.
A lesser-known danger lurks in the dishwasher if you have one. How do you put the knives in? Tip-up is a big no-no, as that can cause cuts to the hand of anyone putting something in or unloading the machine, who may not realise there is a sharp knife pointing at them.
And then of course there is the danger of burns; handling hot fluids or food, hot pans or getting something out of the oven. Wearing oven gloves can prevent a lot of those. Check your tea or coffee mugs, and make sure the handle doesn’t show any cracks, you don’t want it breaking just as you’re carrying a hot brew.
If you or someone else gets burned – treat them like as explained under the fireworks section. Whatever the cause, burns are burns.
Falls or trapping your fingers
Falling can happen anywhere and to anyone. When we fall, our instinct is to try to break our fall by putting our hands in front of us. And this is likely to lead to a FOOSH injury (yes, that stands for fall onto an out-stretched hand). Breaks, sprains, ligament or tendon damage and extensive bruising can occur. And while it isn’t always possible to prevent falls, some things can be done to limit the risk.
Make sure the floor is clear of clutter. If you have mobility problems now and then, you may want to have a stool or chair nearby to hold on to, or use a walking stick or even a walker. When sporting, make sure you wear protective clothes such as padded gloves. And make sure your footwear has a good grip so you are less likely to slip.
Doors, particularly car doors, are a big danger, especially for young children. Not just the side that opens, but the side of the door where the hinge is even more so, someone may be holding on there without realising how dangerous it is (think about tiny fingers especially). Trapped fingers or hands get crushed, which makes repairing the tissues a lot more difficult than with a clean cut.
So be careful, check it is safe before closing a door, and don’t slam a door shut – close it gently, just in case.
Using electrical tools
The next big category of injuries is those caused by tools. Sometimes industrial tools, mainly electrical ones. Examples are chainsaws, shredders, lawnmowers and snow blowers.
Always unplug machinery, and if sharp blades are involved, DO NOT stick your hands in them to get rid of an obstruction or to clean them, as you may well be pushing your hand against a blade! Use pliers or long forceps, or ask a professional to help.
And make sure you use protective gloves, the vibration of some tools can cause long-term damage such as vibration white finger or Dupuytren’s.
Be careful with your hands
These are just some of the most common ways people injure their hands by accident. There are a lot more ways hands can get injured (animal bites or stings, fights, and repetitive injuries like typing are other examples). I may discuss them another time.
For now, the take-home message is: your hands are precious, treat them with care!