Watch Your Fingers! Prevention and Treatment of Tendon Injuries
By: Elisa Knutsen, M.D.
There are many daily activities that can cause tendon injuries. Even when caution is used, accidents can occur. Deep cuts or crush injuries to the fingers or hand can injure the tendons that bend (flex) or straighten (extend) your fingers. Here is some information to think about if you or someone you know finds themselves dealing with a potential tendon injury.
The muscles that bend (flex) your fingers are called flexor muscles, which move your fingers through cord-like structures called tendons. There are two flexor tendons to each of your fingers, and one to your thumb.
Although a cut may appear simple from the outside, it can be much more complex inside, especially if nerves and/or arteries are injured as well. With these injuries the “wait and see,” method of treatment is not the way to go. Often the extent of the damage can easily be underestimated.
When a flexor tendon is cut, you cannot bend your finger. Tendon injuries should be addressed within two weeks to optimize recovery. Tendon injuries require surgery since flexor tendons cannot heal on their own. A hand surgeon will use an exam during an office visit to determine if the tendon has been damaged. Usually MRIs are not needed. The nerves and/or arteries to the finger may also need to be repaired. If the tendon is cut, a hand surgeon will reconnect the tendon using special suturing techniques in the operating room.
Hand therapy is often started within days of the surgical procedure. An Occupational Therapist guides the patient through specific exercises that are aimed at preventing stiffness. Often there is scar tissue that forms as the tendon heals. If normal motion is not regained after the tendon heals, then you may need more surgery to release that scar.
The best way to prevent hand lacerations is to be safe and if you get hurt, visit a hand surgeon soon after the injury to identify the best path of treatment.