Hand surgeon John M. Erickson, MD talks about common hand injuries around the house and how to prevent them.
“I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure” — Hippocratic Oath
The Hippocratic Oath is the pledge toward which all doctors aspire. Doctors try to cure disease and repair injuries. The passage from the oath above reminds us that, if at all possible, we should try to prevent illness and injury rather than only focusing on curing it after it has occurred.
Hand injuries while performing everyday activities — such as cooking, woodworking, exercising and lawnmowing — are too common. Many of these injuries can be prevented by adhering to simple, common sense guidelines.
In the Kitchen
- When using a knife, never cut toward yourself. Protect your other hand by cutting away from your fingers to keep them out of harm’s way.
- Always cut on a clean, dry, and stable surface in a well-lit room.
- Keep knife blades sharp. A dull blade can be more dangerous than a sharp one because it requires more force to use.
- Load the dishwasher with the sharp blades pointed away from you.
- Keep frequently used items on the lower shelves within easy reach. Use a sturdy stepstool to reach higher cabinets when necessary. This will avoid a potential fall on your wrist.
In the Workshop
Power saws are responsible for thousands of serious hand injuries and finger amputations each year in the United States. Many of these injuries can be prevented by following these tips:
- Always remain focused and alert when using a saw or power tool. Protective gloves can prevent minor injuries such as abrasions and lacerations; however, major injuries from a saw or other power tool cannot be prevented with gloves. Remember that years of careful use can be undone by a brief moment of careless inattention.
- Always disconnect the power supply when cleaning or changing the blades of a power saw.
- Use power saws with guards or blade-stopping technology. Do not alter or modify the safety features of a saw.
- Keep tools in good working condition.
- Use a push stick. Never use your hands to advance items into a saw blade.
- Always work on a clean, dry, and stable surface in a well-lit room.
- Always use tools for their intended purpose. For example, don’t use a screwdriver as a chisel.
In the Yard
Injuries from lawnmowers and snowblowers can be devastating. Follow these guidelines to stay safe:
- Never clear a jammed lawnmower or snowblower with your hands. Disable the power source and clear the jam with a tool, not your fingers. Protective gloves can help prevent minor injuries such as abrasions and cuts, but they will not prevent severe injuries.
- Never lift a lawnmower by grasping under its base, where sharp blades are hidden.
- Ensure adequate lighting while working.
- Wear sturdy footwear to prevent slips and falls while using a lawnmower. Avoid working on wet grass.
In the Gym
- Keep hands away from the moving parts of workout machines.
- Remove rings and jewelry prior to a workout as these may get caught in a machine or on a free-weight.
- Consult a trainer or gym employee if you are unfamiliar with the equipment.
- Always maintain control of proper form and technique while lifting weights. Do not “cheat” or deviate from proper form to lift more weight.
- Keep children away from home treadmills and workout machines to avoid fingertip injuries.
In the Home: Fall Prevention for Seniors
Thousands of senior Americans are injured in falls at home each year. Following fall prevention guidelines can reduce the risk of fractures of the wrist and shoulder as well as the hip and spine.
- Remove clutter from the floor to avoid tripping over objects such as books, paper and clothing.
- Secure loose rugs with double-sided tape or remove them. Tack down edges of loose carpet.
- Remove unnecessary electrical wires or telephone cords from the walkway.
- Install a non-slip mat or adhesive strips in the shower and bathtub. Place a non-slip rug next to the shower or tub for safe exiting.
- Avoid the use of slippery floor wax and tile cleaners.
- Install handrails on all staircases. Always hold onto handrails when using the stairs.
- Avoid placing items on shelves beyond your reach. If required, use a sturdy stepstool. Never climb on an unsteady chair or countertop to reach a shelf.
- Ensure adequate lighting in the house and consider night lights for evening use. Consider keeping a flashlight by the nightstand.
- Avoid medications which make you drowsy or dizzy, when possible.
- Wear shoes with non-slip soles both inside and outside the home. Avoid using slippery sandals or house shoes.
- Check your vision at least once a year and keep your prescription eyewear current.
- Start an exercise program which improves balance and coordination.
- Talk to your primary care physician about osteoporosis prevention and treatment to help prevent fractures.
If you are injured, seek medical attention immediately. Prompt diagnosis and treatment is often necessary for the best outcome. Learn more about hand safety at www.HandCare.org.
Dr. John M. Erickson is a hand and upper extremity specialist at the Raleigh Hand Center. He trained in orthopedic surgery at the University of Michigan and completed a hand surgery fellowship at Vanderbilt University. He19 is an active member of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH).