Why Hand Injuries Can Hurt So Much

Stacey Jackson AHTA Accredited Hand Therapist 

A real pain in the…… hand! Here’s the thing, our hands are designed to connect us to the world we live in. They are what we use to eat, work, play and love. As a result, our hands are one of the most sensitive parts of our body, meaning they have a large density of nerves to relay messages to us.

Pain sensitivity can be related to the human homunculus, which is a depiction of the density of nerves in different areas of our bodies….the bigger the body part, the more the nerves innervating it! If you look at a picture of the homunculus, our hands are BIG indicating lots of nerves and high sensitivity….think of the sensitivity necessary to read Braille! Therefore, when an area of our hand gets injured, we have a lot more nerves to relay the message that something is not quite right.

Our brain and body often tries to protect us from danger without us consciously making decisions- for example when we pull our hand away from a hot plate before we get burnt or when we limp after an ankle sprain to avoid further injury to the tissues. This is obviously really important and helps us MOST of the time. However, sometimes, particularly when there are a lot of nerves working away, our brain and body can protect us TOO much; Think of a car alarm that is really sensitive and goes off when a leaf lands on the bonnet- overkill right…? So whilst pain is important and should always be respected, it can sometimes hinder us too.

If you have an over active alarm system (also knows as our sensitized nervous system) it can lead us to avoiding the use of the injured body part, in our case its often a finger or wrist joint. Disuse can then lead to joint stiffness, persistent swelling, reduce movement and strength and in some severe cases.

Reference for image: School of Medicine - Case Western Reserve University www.casemed.case.edu

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