Angie's LIST Guide to
Hand and wrist orthopedics

The medical field of orthopedics focuses on the muscles and bones, and doctors who specialize in hand and wrist orthopedics diagnose, treat and operate on musculoskeletal issues that affect a patient from the elbows all the way down to the fingertips.


Orthopedic specialists treat joint problems and other issues involving the musculoskeletal system.

Hand and wrist orthopedics

Many conditions can affect your hand and wrist, including trauma that can result from receiving a blow to the wrist or hand. This trauma may cause a fracture or a dislocation in any of the bones of you hand or wrist. An orthopedic specialist may suggest a brace or cast to help the bone heal or physical therapy to help you regain strength. 

Repetitive use injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis, or genetic conditions can affect your hand and wrist. Other conditions include carpal bossing, flexor tendon sheath infections, jersey finger, boutonniére deformity, swan neck deformity, mallet finger and trigger finger. Many of these finger conditions cause difficulty with straightening your finger or pointing it down.

Hand and wrist treatment options

Despite your affliction, an orthopedic doctor can suggest a treatment method to help manage your pain and help you increase your mobility. Initial treatment is centered around decreasing swelling and resting the injured area. If the area affected is the wrist, the orthopedic doctor may suggest a splint, brace or cast to help rest the joint. If the area affected is the finger, he or she may suggest a finger splint.

The doctor will also work to decrease any inflammation, which can help alleviate pain and improve range of motion. He or she may have you ice the swollen area regularly, elevate it or suggest nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen. If these methods aren't successful, your doctor may recommend you receive cortisone injections. Your doctor may also suggest surgery if your symptoms are severe and can't be relieved by more conservative treatment methods. Surgery may include removing damaged tissue, freeing trapped tendons or fusing the wrist. Finally, your doctor may refer you to a physical or occupational therapist to help reduce pain, rebuild strength and learn how to do things successfully with your hand or wrist condition.

Choosing an orthopedist

Finding a hand or wrist orthopedic doctor who is right for you may take a little work. You may also wish to ask your family doctor for a referral to a good orthopedic surgeon who is skilled in treating your hand or wrist condition. Depending on your policy, you may need a referral from your primary care physician in order for your policy to pay for treatment. Contact your health insurance carrier to check your coverage for orthopedic care. 

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons should have a list of several orthopedic doctors in your area, which you should check against the directory available from your health insurance company. Carefully research the orthopedic doctors you are considering. Verify their qualifications, education, continuing education, accepted insurance plans and affiliated hospitals by consulting Angie's List, where you can also see member reviews and rankings.

When you narrow down your list, consider visiting your likely candidates. Inquire into the orthopedic doctor's area of expertise. You want to ensure that your doctor has had successful experiences treating patients with your condition. You'll also want to get information about the doctor's treatment philosophy. Some doctors prefer to go with more aggressive treatment options while others prefer more conservative treatments and preventative options. It is important to choose an orthopedist you feel comfortable with. Some individuals prefer a doctor who has a more professional attitude while others prefer a more friendly approach. Be sure to use the background research and your own personal feelings to choose the right orthopedic doctor for you and your situation.


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