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Get a grip on common injuries.

Tiny paper cuts sting unmercifully. Arthritis-stricken fingers throb. Nerves damaged by carpal tunnel syndrome tingle as though on fire. It seems as if hand problems hurt more than injuries to other parts of the body.

This feeling isn't imaginary, explains Robert Buchanan, hand medicine and surgery specialist, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. "Our hands are often injured first, because we throw them up to protect other parts of the body, especially the face and head." Not only are they the body's front line of defense, but almost one-third of the brain's sensory input area is devoted exclusively to the hands. "That's why a paper cut stings so badly. The brain is wired' to pay more attention to it, neurologically speaking."

Hand injuries are fairly common, falling into two categories. Acute ones result from cuts, burns, crushed tissue, or any other type of external trauma. Repetitive injury is based on cumulative damage and usually is not visible. "We are seeing more and more repetitive motion injury cases, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. These are the ones that sneak up on you. The symptoms of nerve tingling, swelling, and pain often aren't paid attention to until the problem has become serious."

In comparison to the rest of the body, hands are resilient, but quite often the natural healing process results in impaired function. Physicians and therapists, therefore, have to work against many of the body's healing tendencies in order to restore full movement capability. A major factor is that hand injuries frequently involve treating damaged skin, bone, nerves, blood vessels, and tendons at the same time. Each of these requires different surgical and therapeutic techniques, which must be performed in a very small space.

Basic job-site and at-home safety precautions can reduce the risk of serious hand injuries, while most minor cuts, burns, and scrapes are treated easily. However, the numbers of repetitive injuries continue to rise and they can have more serious consequences. "There have always been a lot of repetitive motion-related injuries--they just weren't recognized, and therefore were not reported. What physicians used to see was arthritis which had developed as a result of earlier injuries. Now, X-rays, [magnetic resonance imaging], and CAT scans allow us to diagnose many cases that would have gone undocumented before, so the numbers are up. Plus, more people are working with computers, which tends to increase the odds of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Also, many years ago, if a person started having symptoms, he or she tended to switch jobs or adapt tools and equipment. Modern job environments don't allow for much of this."
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Title Annotation:hands
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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