With South Florida’s year-round warm weather, outdoor sports like golf, tennis and running are always popular. With all that activity comes the potential for injury, however, with injuries to the hand and wrist among the most common for the “weekend warriors” among us.
Hand and wrist injuries account for approximately 25% of all sports injuries and are some of the most common injuries that athletes experience. Elizabeth Anne Ouellette, M.D., MBA, a renowned orthopedic hand surgeon at Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute with more than 30 years of clinical experience treating athletes and people of all ages, specializes in the treatment of wrist fractures, ligament tears, nerve injuries, joint instability and small joint replacement.
Dr. Ouellette says she sees a lot of golfers and tennis players in her practice. “I’ve got patients of all ages, some as young as eight or nine and some well into their eighties and nineties,” she says. “Mostly it’s sprains, strains and tears or fractures caused by overuse, accidents or falls.”
With her special expertise in wrist and nerves, Dr. Ouellette also sees a lot of people with tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive stress injuries. Tendonitis, she says, is caused by inflammation of the tendon, usually resulting from overuse in sports or work. It typically occurs around the shoulder (rotator cuff tendinitis, biceps tendinitis); elbow (tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow); wrist; hip; knee (jumper’s knee), or ankle (Achilles tendinitis). “I can tell you what sport you play just by knowing where your pain is,” she says with a chuckle.
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve that runs the length of the arm is squeezed or compressed as it travels through the wrist, causing significant and sometimes debilitating pain. “While the condition may not be visible to others, it can really affect one’s quality of life,” she says. “It can severely limit their ability to play sports and even the most routine motion such as turning a doorknob or opening a jar lid can cause agonizing pain.”
Dr. Ouellette says carpal tunnel syndrome is a particularly interesting area of focus for her research because genetics, hormones, anatomy and metabolism all play a role in the condition.
“Women are three times more likely than men to develop carpal tunnel syndrome,” she says. “Also at high risk are people with diabetes or other metabolic disorders that directly affect the body’s nerves and make them more susceptible to compression.”
Dr. Ouellette also says body weight may play a role in carpal tunnel syndrome. “A recent study published in JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association) found that 80 percent of the carpal tunnel patients they followed were overweight.”
Dr. Ouellette, who also treats fractures of the hand and wrist, says she saw many cases in the week or two leading up to the coronavirus lockdown in mid-March. “There was a lot of anxiety in those days leading up to the lockdown,” she says. “We saw a lot of metacarpal (hand) fractures from people punching walls – five cases in just one week. And it wasn’t just men doing the punching – some of them were women,” she adds with a laugh. Dogs also felt the stress, apparently. “We had five dog bite injuries in one week,” Dr. Ouellette says. “I guess they felt the tension, too.”