Tendons are tissues that connect our muscles to our bones. The tendons in our hands work to straighten and bend our fingers, performing incredibly important tasks all day, every day. When the tendons in our hands are injured, we can lose the use of our fingers or the hand entirely. The providers at the Rochester Regional Health Orthopedics Upper Extremity Program are experts in tendon repairs and will help you regain function and return to your hobbies through minimally invasive and non-surgical treatments carefully crafted around your needs.
Your tendons are under tension as they connect your muscles to your bones, and their ends pull far apart when torn or cut–like a rubber band–making it impossible for injured tendons to heal on their own. If left untreated, a flexor tendon injury can result in loss of use of your fingers, your thumb, or the entire hand.
In your upper extremities, long tendons extend from the muscles in your forearm and attach to the small bones of your fingers and thumbs. They are kept in place next to the bone by tunnels called tendon sheaths.
A flexor tendon injury may be caused by a deep cut in the palm of your hand, fingers, forearm, or wrist. The tendons are very close to the surface of your skin, so cuts can be very damaging. Those who play sports like rugby, football, and wrestling may experience their tendon being pulled off the bone, or “Jersey finger.” Sports like rock climbing may also stretch or tear your flexor tendon as you stretch and use your hand strength. People with certain health conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis, may experience weaker tendons, making them more likely to tear.
If you have a serious cut to your fingers or hand, apply ice immediately. Tightly wrap the finger or hand with a bandage or clean cloth to slow down the bleeding, and keep your hand elevated above your heart. Please see a doctor as quickly as possible, as it is imperative you are examined quickly to prevent infection or loss of function.
Symptoms of flexor tendon injuries include:
Your physician will perform a physical examination to determine your ability to bend and straighten your fingers, as well as their strength. They will test your hand for blood flow and sensation to better understand if any blood vessels or nerves have been injured. Your physician may also order an X-ray to see if there has been any damage to your bone.
Surgery is usually required, but your physician may place your hand in a splint to protect it before surgery. In some cases, non-surgical treatments will be enough to help, and your surgeon may advise splinting and exercise programs to help your tendons.
Surgery is usually needed to help your tendon heal properly, as the ends of a torn or severed tendon no longer touch and cannot grow back together. The sooner your surgery is performed the better , but your surgery may be immediate if there is any blood flow restriction in your fingers or hand.
Tendons tend to tear in different ways–be it straight across, at an angle, or pulled off your bone. The method used to treat your flexor tendon injury will be individualized to your needs but will involve the use of special stitches (or sutures). Your orthopedic surgeon will put your fingers and wrist in a bent position to keep minimal tension on the repair, and then apply dressing and your split to protect your repair and limit movement as your tendon heals. These surgeries are performed on an outpatient basis, meaning you should return home on the same day.