Why Hand Therapy Shouldn’t Be Overlooked in Sports Injuries

Photo by Renith R. from Unsplash

In the high-stakes world of competitive sports, where every second counts and the difference between victory and defeat often hinges on the finest of margins, the importance of peak physical condition cannot be overstated. Yet, amidst the focus on larger muscle groups and more visible injuries, an often-overlooked element can make or break an athlete’s performance: the health of their hands

Hand injuries, ranging from minor sprains to complex fractures, are not just common; they are a pivotal aspect of sports that can drastically alter the course of an athlete’s career. Neglecting these injuries or underestimating their impact is akin to ignoring a ticking time bomb in an athlete’s arsenal of skills.

The Prevalence of Hand Injuries in Sports

Players often sustain hand injuries through direct impacts and falls in high-contact sports like rugby and Australian football. But it’s not just the rough-and-tumble sports at risk. Even in seemingly less contact-oriented sports such as cricket or tennis, the hands are constantly at work, catching, throwing, or wielding equipment, making them highly susceptible to overuse injuries.

Each sport comes with its unique set of risks. For instance, in cricket, a fastball can lead to fractures or dislocations, while the repetitive action of gripping a racquet in tennis can cause chronic issues like tendonitis. The swift and precise hand movements in netball can lead to sprains or ligament injuries. These are not mere inconveniences; they can significantly hinder an athlete’s ability to perform, sometimes leading to prolonged absences from the sport

For athletes, understanding the type of healthcare coverage they have is crucial in managing these risks effectively. Deciding between different health insurance options, such as POS plan vs PPO, can influence access to specialized treatments and therapies for hand injuries. These decisions are often as critical as athletes’ physical training and preparation, as they directly impact the resources available for injury prevention and recovery.

Importance of Customised Rehabilitation Plans

Customized rehabilitation plans are central to the effectiveness of hand therapy, particularly for athletes. These plans are meticulously tailored to meet the unique demands of the athlete’s specific sport and injury. This level of personalization ensures that the treatment addresses the athlete’s individual needs rather than applying a one-size-fits-all approach. For instance, a golfer with a wrist injury would require a different rehabilitation strategy than a swimmer with the same injury due to the distinct demands of their respective sports.

The customization process involves thoroughly assessing the athlete’s injury, playing style, and the physical demands of their sport. This allows hand therapists to identify the key areas that need focus, such as strength, flexibility, or fine motor skills. By honing in on these specific areas, the rehabilitation plan not only aids in a quicker recovery but also enhances the athlete’s performance upon their return.

Moreover, customized rehabilitation plans play a crucial role in preventing future injuries. By understanding the mechanics of the athlete’s sport and their injury history, hand therapists can design a program that not only rehabilitates the current injury but also strengthens and conditions the hand and wrist against potential future injuries. This foresight is particularly important in sports, where recurring injuries can impact an athlete’s career.

Hand Therapy’s Role in Preventing Chronic Conditions

From dry needling to joint mobilization, the role of hand therapy extends far beyond immediate injury treatment. It’s pivotal in preventing the progression of acute injuries into chronic conditions. In the athletic world, where repetitive stress and high-impact use of the hands are common, this aspect of hand therapy is especially crucial. Without appropriate intervention, injuries like sprains, fractures, or tendonitis can evolve into long-term issues such as osteoarthritis or chronic pain syndromes.

Hand therapists employ various techniques to mitigate this risk. They focus on properly healing acute injuries, using methods like mobilization, strength training, and pain management. These approaches include the customization of splints and the application of kinesiology taping. Custom-made splints play a significant role in the rehabilitation process, providing support and stabilization to the injured area while it heals. These splints are tailored to the individual’s specific needs, ensuring optimal fit and functionality. They are instrumental in maintaining proper joint alignment during the recovery phase, which is crucial for preventing the development of chronic conditions.

Meanwhile, kinesiology taping is another technique used by hand therapists that has gained popularity for its ability to provide support and reduce pain without limiting mobility. This method involves applying a special tape to the skin in a specific manner to facilitate lymphatic drainage, decrease inflammation, and support the muscles and joints.

Moreover, hand therapists emphasize education as a key component of prevention. Athletes are educated about injury prevention strategies, proper hand usage techniques, and ergonomics specific to their sport. This knowledge empowers athletes to be proactive in their hand health, reducing the likelihood of recurrent injuries.

Integration with Overall Athletic Care

Carla Bingham  Occupational Therapist/ Accredited Hand therapist  (as awarded by the Australian Hand Therapy Association)

The efficacy of hand therapy is significantly enhanced when integrated with an athlete’s overall care strategy. This integration is key to a holistic approach to injury recovery, ensuring that hand rehabilitation aligns with the athlete’s general fitness and sport-specific training. Collaboration between hand therapists, sports physicians, physiotherapists, and coaches is crucial, allowing for a coordinated and comprehensive treatment plan.

Such collaboration ensures that the hand therapy regimen complements other aspects of the athlete’s recovery. For instance, while the hand therapist focuses on the specific hand injury, the physiotherapist can work on the athlete’s overall strength and conditioning. This teamwork helps maintain the athlete’s general fitness while specifically targeting the hand injury, resulting in a more balanced and effective recovery process.

Moreover, integrating hand therapy into the broader athletic care spectrum also addresses the psychological aspects of injury and recovery. Athletes often face mental challenges such as anxiety, loss of confidence, or fear of re-injury upon returning to their sport. Hand therapists, in collaboration with sports psychologists and coaches, can play a vital role in helping athletes overcome these mental hurdles, ensuring they are mentally and physically prepared to return to competition.

Wrapping Up

The significance of hand therapy in sports injury recovery is unmistakable. Far from being a mere subset of rehabilitation, it is a vital component that bridges the gap between basic recovery and peak performance. Hand therapists’ specialized skills, commitment to tailored rehabilitation, and role in prevention highlight a deeper understanding of an athlete’s journey back to the field.

Hand therapy, therefore, should not be an afterthought in sports medicine but a primary consideration, pivotal in ensuring athletes return to their sport with enhanced strength and resilience.

Written by Laura Morgan