Every human depends upon their hands for almost everything. From showering to driving, writing, tightening a screw or affixing a stamp, our tactile capacities and grip determine how easily we can conduct our activities of daily living.
In order to utilise our hands most effectively we require motion, strength, sensation and be free from pain. In the case of an injury or disability to the hand, wrist or fingers, it is advisable that you seek care to ensure that functionality is restored properly. For this, a good place to start is with a recommended hand surgeon from family or colleagues, or an online search for a ’hand surgeon near me’.
What is a hand surgeon?
Hand surgeons are subspecialist general, plastic, or orthopaedic surgeons who devote a major part of their practice to the treatment of the hand and wrist. Several hand surgeons also conduct treatment of forearms, and peripheral nerves throughout the body.
Hand surgery is a specialty of general, orthopaedic, or plastic surgery. Hand surgeons need to:
- Finish a minimum of one year of specialised fellowship training in hand surgery following the period of basic residency in medicine (or 2.5 years for Post Fellowship Education and Training (PFET) hand qualification through the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.
- Devote a major part of their practice to conditions of the upper extremity and hands.
- Gain certification in hand surgery through the required Medical Board /
The role of a hand surgeon
Hand surgery is a branch of medicine that manages issues of the forearm, wrist and hand. Such issues may be treated by the hand surgeon without or with surgery. Hand surgeons are trained to conduct procedures when required. Some surgeons offer treatment to only adults, or just children or both.
Some of the typical conditions handled by hand surgeons are:
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Arthritis of hands, fingers, thumb and wrists
- Fractures of hands, fingers, thumb and wrists
- Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
- Infections of the wrists and hands
- Ganglion cysts of the hands and wrists
- Injuries to tendons of the hands and wrists
- Injuries of nerves of the hands and wrists
- Trigger Finger
- DeQuervain’s tenovaginitis
Congenital hand issues may be treated by hand surgeons who deal with children. Surgeons may offer treatment for both non-surgical and surgical conditions. They commonly devote their time between:
- Operations in theatre and conducting surgery
- Clinic/office based work treating non-surgical conditions, getting patients ready for surgery and offering post-operative care to patients
- In academic centres, training medical students, fellows and residents
- Participating in conferences and research projects at home and abroad
Reasons to visit a hand surgeon
In case of pain in the arm, elbow, wrist, hand, finger it is wise to turn to a specialist hand surgeon. Since most hand surgeons dedicate their time to examining, treating and studying the hand, they are experts in the field.
Based on the situation, visits to a hand surgeon might comprise of the following:
- Questions by the surgeon about the history of the issue, so that they can fully understand the symptoms and any relevant medical history
- A physical examination of the area of the upper extremity which is causing issues
- Possible X-rays of the hands or wrists to further study the bones in these areas.
- Possible CT scans, MRIs, ultrasounds, nerve studies and other tests to diagnose the condition better.
Some of the non-surgical treatments suggested by an orthopaedic hand surgeon include:
- Hand therapy – a mix of occupational and physiotherapists to help to improve function, improve scarring relieve pain and restore movement.
- Injections – Steroid and local anaesthetic injections may help alleviate wrist/hand conditions, and help to diagnose the source of the problem.
- Medication -Some conditions may be treated by over the counter NSAIDs.
Condiions that cannot be alleviated by the above treatments may be recommended for surgery. Surgery may be urgent (for fractures/infections) or elective (arthritis/carpal Tunnel Syndrome).
Qualities of a good hand surgeon
- Accurate diagnosis and treatment
Seek a hand surgeon who has glowing reviews from former patients. Look out for consistencies and trends in the reviews left. Such data will give a good idea of the abilities of the surgeon and what you can expect while working along with them.
Patients have different issues and responses to medical treatments, so check for reviews with conditions similar to yours. After arranging a meeting with the surgeon, observe whether they consider all treatment options, including surgical outcomes, in their suggestions. Note whether they explore non-invasive options. Word of mouth from previous patients or General Practitioners is often a useful way to find a surgeon.
- Calm under pressure
A great surgeon will stay calm and composed in situations of acute stress. In hand surgeries, there are risks of blood clots and nerve damage resulting in altered sensation. The capacity of a surgeon to deal with stress and make crucial decisions under pressure is a measure of their skill. One good and early way to judge this is at the first appointment itself, where you can observe how they conduct the diagnosis of the hand problem and handle questions. One thing to avoid is feeling rushed in the consultation by the surgeon and if they are able to explain everything about the treatment in a clear way.
In sum, these are the top facts about finding a reputable and skilled orthopaedic hand surgeon.