SARASOTA – With the holiday season fast approaching, the last thing you want is an injury to your fingers, hands or wrists. So take a few simple precautions before you start chopping the celery, peeling those potatoes or lifting that stuffed turkey, glazed ham or vegetarian lasagna into the oven.
“Play it safe in the kitchen,” says Christopher L. Dillingham, M.D., a board certified orthopedic surgeon at Sforzo | Dillingham Orthopedics in Sarasota who is fellowship-trained in hand, shoulder, and arm surgery.
A starting point is choosing the right knife for a particular task, and always using a cutting board. “Most cooks know that a paring knife may be great for vegetables, but not for slicing bread,” says Dillingham. “But when people get in a hurry, they can make mistakes.”
Every year, Dillingham says patients who have cut themselves seriously while preparing a holiday meal – often when holding something in one hand while cutting with the other. “It you sever a tendon in your finger, it can take a long time to recover from surgery,” he said. “It’s much better to slow down, pay attention and do the slicing and dicing on a cutting board.”
Many cooks also have a touch of arthritis in their hands, usually beginning at the base of the thumb. That can make it painful to chop foods, serve drinks or carry plates to the table. “If you find it painful to hold and carry things, try putting a little splint or a brace on your hand,” Dillingham says. “That gives your hand some extra support, while leaving your fingers free to move.”
Another suggestion is to take an anti-inflammatory medicine in the morning before getting started on the big meal. If you suffer from painful arthritis, a cortisone injection in the hand can also help you enjoy the holiday festivities. Afterwards, you may want to run an anti-inflammatory cream on your fingers and joints, or put your hands into a warm paraffin bath.
Nearly 10 percent of Americans will suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome at some point in their lives, according to Dillingham. It occurs when the nerve running from your neck to your thumb and first four fingers is pinched in the wrist area. One of the symptoms is a feeling of numbness in the hand, except for the little “pinkie” finger, which is controlled by a separate nerve running from your elbow.
“If you lose sensation in your fingers while cutting foods for a meal or if you shake your hands in order to ‘wake them up,’ you may have carpal tunnel syndrome at an early stage,” Dillingham says.
One short-term solution is to get a small splint that prevents the wrist from bending. But don’t ignore the symptoms hoping they will go away. “Surgery may be needed to relieve the pressure on that nerve and avoid permanent damage,” says Dillingham. “And if suffer from ongoing pain, numbness or a tingling sensation in your hands, talk with your doctor on your next visit. Don’t let a problem with your hands ruin your holiday season.”