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Understanding Metacarpal Fractures: Scrap the “No Pain, No Gain” Mentality

by Matt on June 21, 2017

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There’s no doubting how valuable your hands are. No other species can grasp, hold, move, and manipulate objects quite like humans. Although our hands are valuable, they are also vulnerable. In fact, hand injuries send more than one million workers to the emergency room each year. Many of these visits are for metacarpal fractures.

 

What is a Metacarpal Fracture?

Metacarpals are long, thin, tubular bones that make up most of the space in your palm. Of the 27 bones in each hand, 5 of them are metacarpals (one for each finger). When subject to more impact than they can withstand, these bones break. Fracture of the 5th metacarpal, your pinky finger, is the most common. This kind of fracture is called a “Boxer’s Fracture”.

 

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Not Just a Boxer’s Injury

Apart from boxing, other top causes of metacarpal fractures include:

  • Falls
  • Sports injuries
  • Fist fights
  • Car accidents

Keep in mind that any forceful blow to your hand can lead to a metacarpal fracture. This is especially true if you decide to ditch the recommended hand protection.

 

Risk Factors

Believe it or not, men sustain three times more metacarpal fractures than women. If you’re an active, working male — your odds are even higher. Workers with the highest risk of fracture are those with construction and factory jobs. Other high risk groups include individuals with a history of joint or bone disease and/or nutritional deficiencies. Although you might not be able to reduce these risks, it helps to be aware.

 

Diagnosis

If you sustain a metacarpal fracture, your hand function declines right away. You’ll likely feel a sudden onset of intense pain at the site of injury, which can turn into hand achiness. In severe cases, you may be able to see an obvious deformity. Keep in mind that bruising doesn’t normally occur until a few days post-incident.

One way to pinpoint your diagnosis is to attempt to form a fist. If it hurts and feels too stiff to do so, a metacarpal (or multiple) could be fractured. The only way to know for sure is to visit your doctor for a physical exam and/or an X-ray.

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Treatment

Ice your hand ASAP! Gentle icing and elevation will reduce swelling and pain as you wait for treatment. Your doctor will then examine your hand to determine the best treatment plan. Although it will be customized to your injury, your plan will likely include pain relief medication and a cast/hand splint. Based on the severity of the injury, your treatment plan could also include:

  • Activity modification
  • Gradual return to activity plan
  • Education
  • Soft tissue massage
  • Physiotherapy

Whatever your combination may be, it’s in your best interest to follow it. A “no pain, no gain”  attitude will only cause further hand damage.
 

Will I Need Surgery?

You’ll be happy to hear that in most cases, you won’t need surgery. In rare or severe cases, surgery can restore/correct:

  • Shortened finger length resulting from fracture
  • Rotational deformity (eg: your fingers cross over each other while in a fist)
  • Multiple fractures

 

Healing Time

The time it takes your metacarpal fracture to heal varies on a case-by-case basis. But generally speaking, healing time tends to fall within the range of 6-10 weeks. If a cast is part of your treatment plan, you likely won’t have to wear it for the full duration of healing. For faster recovery, rest from activities that increase pain. Also, seeing your doctor early = more accurate diagnosis = earlier treatment = quicker recovery. 

 

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Can I Still Work?

This unfortunately isn’t an easy question to answer. Your doctor may suggest time off, alternate work duties or a gradual return to work. It depends on your job type and the duties you perform. For this reason, your doctor will want to know your day-to-day tasks. For example, if your job involves the use of both hands, your duties may need to be temporarily modified. Be prepared to work alongside your employer and doctor to create a safe return to work plan.
 

Let’s Talk Prevention

If your day-to-day responsibilities put your hands at risk for impact, like many assembly, oil and gas, and construction jobs do — protect yourself. To directly protect against impact, our glove experts recommend looking for gloves with a thermo plastic rubber (TPR) backing. TPR helps reduce back-of-hand injuries such as metacarpal fractures. You can find this feature in our award-winning TenActiv™ Anti-Impact Hi-Viz gloves, which you can sample for FREE.

 

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Don’t just stop at finding the right glove! The best way to protect your workers from metacarpal injuries is to aim for ZERO hand injuries in the workplace. Click below to see our top 6 tips worth implementing to reduce hand injuries in your workplace.

Download 6 Tips for Getting to Zero Hand Injuries.

 


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