When a condition or disorder prevents you from using your hands, your quality of life can be significantly hindered. You stop writing. You can’t dress, bathe or feed yourself.
Dr. Chia Wu, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in hand and upper extremity at Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital, describes the most common hand conditions and their treatments.
About one in four people older than age 18 has been diagnosed with arthritis.
“Arthritis in the hand is really common, both in males and females,” Dr. Wu says.
The condition can occur throughout the hand and wrist and may have more than one cause. The most common arthritic joint in the hand is at the base of the thumb.
“In the case of early-stage arthritis in the base of the thumb, we typically try treatments like braces or injections first before considering surgery,” Dr. Wu says.
In the right patient, hand therapy and medications may also play a role. Surgery is typically reserved for those that fail conservative treatments.
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Carpal tunnel is a common condition that affects up to 10 percent of the general population. Common symptoms include tingling, numbness, burning and weakness primarily involving the hand. Chronically untreated cases can lead to irreversible loss of sensation and strength. Carpal tunnel syndrome risk factors are many, some of which include pregnancy, diabetes, and thyroid disease.
“It’s one of the most common conditions we treat,” Dr. Wu says. “Patients typically describe altered sensation in the fingers with occasional cramping that can wake them up from sleep. I typically start with conservative management such as wrist splinting, occupational therapy and corticosteroid injections, but I may consider surgery for more severe or advanced cases.”
In some patients, a nerve test known as EMG may be useful for ruling out other forms of nerve compression.
Trigger finger, or stenosing tenosynovitis, is a condition that causes pain and limits motion in the finger.
“It can get pretty disabling,” Dr. Wu says. “Patients can have trouble performing simple tasks like making a fist.”
Risk factors for this condition include past medical history of diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and those who regularly perform repeated and prolonged gripping. Treatment for less severe cases includes avoiding repetitive hand motions or using a splint.
“My approach to managing trigger finger typically starts with steroid injections,” Dr. Wu says. “It’s a common treatment that can be effective for many. Patients looking for a permanent fix to the condition can opt for surgery.”
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Wu, visit houstonmethodist.org/osm-injury-baytown or call 281.427.7400.