Common Hand and Wrist Injuries in the Kitchen: How to Prevent Holiday Hand & Finger Injuries

With Thanksgiving wrapping up and the Holiday Season fast approaching, hand and wrist injuries in the kitchen are at an annual high. While minor cuts and burns may be most common, constant chopping, lifting, and stirring can place heightened strain on the wrist, causing or aggravating injuries such as carpal tunnel or tendonitis. Fortunately, there’s steps you can take – in the kitchen or with a doctor – to prevent and treat these injuries.

Common Injuries

Cuts

Cuts are commonplace in the kitchen – from a small nick to amputation of a digit. While many are minor and can be treated at home, larger cuts should be brought straight to the emergency room – particularly if you can’t stop bleeding, movement or sensation in the finger is lost, or if any part of the hand is accidentally amputated. In the last case, gently clean the amputated part as much as possible, cover it in a moistened gauze wrap, place it in a watertight bag, and put it on ice. Never place the amputated piece in direct contact with ice, as this can cause more damage.

If you have accidentally amputated a part of your hand, a surgeon may be able to reattach the severed piece through replantation. Laceration of specific hand and wrist structures – e.g., tendons, nerves, or arteries – may require reconstructive wrist surgery.

Burns

From the stove to the oven to boiling liquid, burn hazards abound in the kitchen. Luckily, most burns are mild and won’t require a trip to the doctors. However, severe burns can be debilitating and painful, and should be treated as soon and as thoroughly as possible to avoid further complications.

There are four classifications of burns, based on the extent of damage. First-degree burns can be quite sore or tender with a dry redness, while second-degree burns may be white, pink, or red with blisters. While the latter is the most painful of all four types, first- and second-degree burns can be treated at home, typically by submersing the affected area in cool water for ten minutes.

Third-degree burns present with leathery, charred skin and little to no pain (as the nerve endings which sense pain have been burned off), while fourth-degree burns may have visibly exposed muscle or bone, as well as digit loss. Both of these more severe burns require immediate medical care and likely surgery – the area will need repeat cleaning and skin grafts to replace damaged or missing skin. See the burn treatment page for more information.

Tendinitis

Overuse or repetitive actions of a joint – such as dicing vegetables or typing – can inflame tendons, causing pain and soreness, particularly with movement. Also known as tendinitis, these symptoms should be controlled as soon and as thoroughly as possible, since long-term inflammation raises the risk for further injury including rupture of the tendon itself.

A medical provider will first recommend rest for the affected tendon, sometimes with a splint or brace. For the first few days after pain begins, ice is recommended to reduce pain and swelling. Later, heat may be used to increase blood flow to the tendon and encourage healing. Should a rupture occur, reconstructive wrist surgery is usually required.

A very common injury, particularly with age, tendinitis goes by many names depending on the location: tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, and mommy’s thumb, to name a few.

Carpal Tunnel

The most overt symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome overlap with tendonitis – pain with movement and swelling. However, instead of tendon inflammation causing pain, carpal tunnel occurs when pressure is placed on a nerve in the wrist by swollen tissues surrounding the nerve.

Due to its association with a nerve, carpal tunnel syndrome can also present with numbness or tingling in the palm or hands, as well as with a loss of fine motor skills with the finger.

Unfortunately, as with tendinitis, the condition can be exacerbated by everyday tasks like texting or typing, making it difficult to treat. Early treatment of the two conditions can be similar, consisting first of rest and bracing as well as cold and warm compresses. However, for moderate to severe carpal tunnel symptomology, surgery is recommended. The procedure involves cutting a ligament within the wrist to relieve pressure on the nerve, and advances have reduced recovery times to one week with minimal scarring and just a 1 cm incision.

Other Possible Injuries

Given the wide variety of cooking techniques and tasks, there are many hand and wrist injuries possible in the kitchen. While the above list covers some of the most common, it is not comprehensive.

If you need assistance determining your potential condition, use the free Where Does it Hurt?® interactive tool. The Where Does it Hurt?® tool will ask you to select your symptoms and provide potential conditions you may be experiencing.

Prevention in the Kitchen

For all chefs, regardless of skill level and ability, the American Society of Hand Therapists has published tips and tricks for preventing injuries in the kitchen:

Citations

  1. Brubacher, J. W. and Jennings, C. D. (July 2016). Fingertip Injuries and Amputations. Retrieved from https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/fingertip-injuries-and-amputations/
  2. Vorvick, L. J. (June 28, 2018). Tendinitis. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001229.htm
  3. Laskowski, E. R. (September 7, 2017). Tendinitis pain: Should I apply ice or heat? Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tendinitis/expert-answers/tendinitis/faq-20057872
  4. Berman, K. (May 24, 2018). Burns. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000030.htm
  5. Ma, B. (April 21, 2019). Carpal tunnel syndrome. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000433.htm
  6. Hand Safety and Injury Prevention (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.asht.org/patients/education-resources/safety-prevention
  7. Ma, B. (August 15, 2018). Amputated finger. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/imagepages/9821.htm

 

Dr. John Knight
Dr. John Knight

Dr. Knight is a renowned hand, wrist and upper extremity surgeon with over 25 years of experience. Dr. Knight is a Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon and Fellowship trained. Dr Knight has appeared on CNN, The Doctors TV, Good Morning America, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Forbes, The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, Oxygen network and more.