If you’ve injured your hand, bandages can reduce swelling, restrict movement, and provide support to the muscles, bones, and joints.
Certain hand injuries may heal better when bandaged. These include:
- fractures, sprains, and strains
- wounds like cuts and animal bites
Most minor hand injuries may heal on their own. Serious hand injuries require immediate medical assistance.
Read on to find out when to bandage an injured hand, how to apply a bandage, and when to seek medical attention.
Here are some common hand injuries that may require bandaging, as well as signs that you should seek medical assistance.
What it is: A hand fracture occurs when you break one or more of the bones in your hand. The most common hand fracture is a boxer’s fracture, which occurs when you break one of the bones at the base of your knuckles, where the fingers meet the hand.
When to seek medical assistance: You should see a doctor immediately if you think your hand is broken.
Some common signs and symptoms of a hand fracture include:
- a bone in your hand is visibly bent or deformed
- your hand is bruised, tender, and swollen
- you cannot move your hand or fingers
- your hand or fingers are numb
- the pain is severe, even with over-the-counter pain medications
When to use a bandage: A bandage is sometimes used in the place of a splint or a cast to restrict the movement of a broken hand or finger.
However, a broken bone must be aligned before bandaging. A doctor can align your broken bone and help you understand how to care for it afterward, including whether you need to use a bandage.
What it is: A hand sprain is an injury that occurs when you stretch or tear a ligament, which is the tissue that connects the bones in your hand. This often affects the thumb.
When to seek medical attention: Sprains are rarely medical emergencies, but they do require treatment. Make an appointment with a doctor to understand how best to care for a sprain. You should also see a doctor if the pain or swelling in your hand is getting worse.
When to use a bandage: A compression bandage can help maintain pressure around the sprained area. This minimizes swelling by preventing fluid buildup at the site of the sprain, helping your hand heal faster. A doctor might recommend a specialized device to immobilize your hand, such as a splint.
What it is: A hand strain occurs when you stretch or tear the muscles or tendons in your hand. This type of injury is common in the tendons that connect the wrist and forearm muscles to the fingers. It’s typically caused by repetitive movements such as typing or using a mouse.
When to seek medical attention: Like sprains, muscle strains are not medical emergencies. However, you may visit a doctor to understand the source of your strain and how best to treat it.
When to use a bandage: As with a sprain, a compression bandage will help to immobilize the injured area and maintain pressure. A doctor might recommend a specialized device to immobilize your hand, such as a splint.
What it is: Wounds, such as lacerations (cuts) or punctures, occur when the skin is torn. These types of injuries are common on the hands and fingers. They’re often the result of accidents handling sharp objects, such as kitchen knives.
When to seek medical attention: Many hand wounds are minor and will heal on their own. However, keep in mind that your hands contain a high number of nerve endings, tendons, and blood vessels in a small space. Even a small hand wound can cause a lot of damage.
You should seek medical attention for any of the following:
- excessive bleeding
- extreme pain
- a large or deep wound
- open or torn-apart skin
- debris stuck in the wound area
- inability to move the affected area
- animal bites
- wounds likely to become infected
- wounds that appear infected
When to use a bandage: Bandages help to keep minor hand wounds clean. After rinsing a minor wound, apply antibiotic ointment and cover the wound with a gauze bandage. If the wound is small, use a plaster.
You should change the bandage about once a day, or whenever the bandage becomes wet or dirty.
What it is: Burns are another common injury on the hands and fingers. They’re caused by exposure to heat, including sun, flames, or hot substances. Other types of burns are caused by cold, chemicals, and electricity.
When to seek medical attention: Minor hand burns don’t usually require emergency care.
You should seek emergency medical care right away for a major burn on your hand. Check for the following signs of a major burn:
- a deep burn
- skin that is dry or tough
- skin that looks charred, or has black, white, or brown patches
- burns that are larger than three inches across
When to use a bandage: Bandages can help to improve burn healing. After cooling and moisturizing a burn, applying a loose gauze bandage to the affected area of your hand will protect damaged skin.
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Different injuries require different bandages. Some bandage types include:
- Compression bandages. Also known as elastic roller bandages or crepe bandages, these types of bandage include a long strip of stretchy fabric packed in a tight roll. Compression bandages are used to support the bones, joints, and connective tissues in the hand after injuries such as sprains and strains.
- Gauze bandages. Gauze bandages are not technically bandages, but dressings. A gauze dressing is a thick, cotton pad used to cover medium- to large-sized wounds. They may be held in place by tape or a roller bandage.
- Cotton/linen roller bandages. Similar to compression bandages, these bandages come in a roll. They’re typically used to hold gauze dressings in place.
- Adhesive/plaster bandages. Similar to gauze bandages, these are a type of dressing for wounds. Band-Aid is one brand. They come in different shapes for smaller wounds, and contain an adhesive so that they stick to the skin.
- Tubular bandages. Tubular bandages are tube-shaped elastic bandages designed to fit around the fingers, elbows, or other areas of the body that move a lot. They may provide support or keep gauze dressings in place.
- Triangular bandages. These cotton bandages are versatile, and are useful when giving first aid. They can be folded into a sling or used to apply pressure to a bleeding wound.
Follow these basic instructions to bandage your hand after a minor injury.
You will need:
- gauze dressing (wounds and burns)
- a roller bandage
- a safety pin or binding clips
- If you are treating a hand wound or burn, rinse the affected area and apply a sterile gauze dressing before wrapping your hand in a bandage.
- Open the roller bandage, and start with the end of the roll at the inside of your wrist.
- Wrap the bandage twice around your wrist. The material should be flat against the wrist.
- From the inside of your wrist, pull the bandage diagonally across the top of your hand. The roll should now be beside your pinky finger.
- Pull the bandage around your pinky finger and under the fingers to your pointer finger. Then pull it around the pointer finger and down diagonally across the top of your hand to the outside of your wrist.
- From here, wrap the bandage around the wrist once more. It should be where you started wrapping at the inside of your wrist.
- Repeat steps 4 to 6, creating a figure eight-like bandage around the hand and fingers. With each new figure eight, you should leave a half an inch of the previous layer visible. The upper parts of the fingers should be visible.
- Once you have covered the whole hand with the bandage, secure it with a safety pin or clip.
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When bandaging your hand, take the following precautions to ensure a smooth healing process:
- Avoid pulling the bandage tight. If you make the bandage too tight, it will cut off circulation in your hand. To check if it’s too tight, squeeze one of your fingernails and count to five. The color should return to your fingernail within two seconds. If it doesn’t, you should loosen it.
- Wrap beyond the site of the injury. Wrapping the areas surrounding the injury helps to ensure pressure is applied evenly.
- Use a sterile (new) gauze dressing or roller bandage. Reusing a gauze dressing or roller bandage can lead to an infection.
- Avoid bandaging a wound that’s infected. If the injury site is red, hot, swollen, or tender, you might have an infection. Yellow or greenish pus, fevers, and chills are additional signs of infection.
If you’re in doubt about your hand injury, call a doctor to ask if you need treatment. Common hand injuries that require medical treatment include:
- hand and finger fractures
- hand and finger sprains and strains
- carpal tunnel syndrome
- deep or large cuts
- puncture wounds
- severed fingers
- animal bites
- third-degree burns
- chemical burns
If you’ve injured your hand, a bandage might be able to help in the healing process. If your hand injury is serious, you should seek treatment right away.
If your hand injury is minor, a bandage can provide stability, reduce your chances of infection, and quicken healing time.