One of the benefits of pet ownership is the opportunity to get outside and exercise. A recent survey estimated that over 60 million households in the United States have at least one dog, so it is safe to say that a large number of us are hooking up a leash to walk our furry friends. Improper leash handling can increase risk of injury, particularly to our hands and wrists.
What are some of those injuries?
As we learned in a prior post, a FOOSH is a “fall on an outstretched hand.” Hand surgeons and hand therapists frequently see patients who have lost their footing after tripping on the leash, on their dog, or while walking on uneven terrain. This may also occur when your dog suddenly jerks the leash causing you to fall. One of the most common injuries resulting from a FOOSH is a wrist fracture, which could require a cast or perhaps even surgery.
Finger Fractures, Dislocations, and Amputations
Consumer Reports noted that in one year there were more than 16,000 leash-related injuries treated in American emergency rooms, and at least 20% of those involved fingers. Finger joints can be dislocated during a fall, or if your dog jerks suddenly while the leash is wrapped around your hand. A finger fracture may occur alone or along with a dislocation. Retractable leashes can cause a burn or a cut if the string gets pulled out or retracts quickly. Another injury reported with retractable leashes is finger amputation. This can occur if the string is wrapped around your finger or hand and your dog forcefully yanks on the leash. Any of these injuries could require treatment with surgery, a cast or orthosis, and hand therapy.
What should I do if this happens to me?
If you sustain a wrist or hand injury, a hand surgeon should be consulted in order to advise you of the best treatment. After, or perhaps even instead of surgery, depending on the injury, your surgeon may refer you to a hand therapist, who may also be a Certified Hand Therapist (or a CHT, for short), for a protective orthosis. The hand therapist can also help manage any symptoms you might have, such as pain, stiffness, swelling, abnormal sensation, and loss of function.
Is there anything I can do to prevent having a leash-related injury?
Fortunately, we don’t have to give up walking with man’s best friend. A few basic safety precautions can prevent the most common leash handling injuries.
- Wear comfortable but stable shoes while walking, such as tennis shoes, to help you keep your footing and avoid falls. If you are going to be hiking with your dog, wear a good pair of hiking shoes or boots to help you navigate rougher terrain.
- Always avoid wrapping any kind of leash around your fingers or hand.
- Choose a leash that is not so long that you cannot maintain control of your dog.
- Choose a leash that is appropriate for your hand size and that you are able to handle without difficulty.
- Good training for you and your dog is essential to a safer walking experience. A dog should be trained not to pull on the leash while walking. A well-trained dog will also be able to resist becoming too excited at the sight of a squirrel or another dog and bolting away.
How can I learn more about Hand Therapists?
For more information about hand therapists and how they can help you with these and other types of conditions, please visit: https://www.asht.org/patients
If you would like to find a hand therapist in your area, please visit: https://www.asht.org/find-a-therapist
Kimberly Masker, OTD, OTR/L, CHT, is a dog mom and a Certified Hand Therapist, and is a member of the American Society of Hand Therapists and an affiliate member of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand.