Hand Emergencies

If you injure your hand, what you do depends on the nature and severity of your injury. If the injury is severe, you should attend the Emergency Department at your nearest hospital.

An injury may be severe if it is:

  • bleeding heavily and this cannot be controlled with direct pressure
  • an amputation or partial amputation of a finger or hand
  • extremely painful
  • a high pressure (hydraulic) injection injury
  • a burn which encircles your finger or covers a substantial part of your hand or wrist, or a chemical burn
  • infected (there is tenderness, warmth, redness, swelling and/or pus)

If your injury is less severe, you should visit your GP for a direct referral to a hand surgeon.  This can help you to avoid a potentially lengthy visit to the hospital emergency department. If you would like to be referred to one of our hand surgeons at The Hand Centre or at one of our associated private hospitals, print this document and take it with you.

Less severe injuries include:

  • most simple fractures and dislocations
  • most lacerations where bleeding is easily controlled with direct pressure
  • sprains and strains
  • most fingertip crush injuries

If you are unsure about what to do, contact your GP or contact The Hand Centre for advice.

Managing a severe injury

If you severely injure your hand or are with someone who severely injures their hand:

1. Call a health professional or an ambulance.

2. If there is bleeding, stop it, as follows:

  • Lie down, or lie the injured person down, and elevate the hand.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water if possible. If latex gloves are available, use them. If not, use the cleanest material you can find between your hands and the wound.
  • Remove clothing from around the wound.
  • Using a cloth or other available material, apply steady direct pressure to the wound or site of bleeding. If there is an object in the wound, apply pressure around, not over, the object. If blood soaks through the cloth, apply another directly over it.

Nearly all bleeding will stop with direct pressure alone. Avoid tourniquets, except in cases where there is heavy bleeding and it is not possible to apply direct pressure.

3. Remove any jewellery on the forearm, wrist and hand.

The fingers and hand will nearly always swell after any injury. Rings or bracelets can restrict blood flow to the swollen fingers and should be removed as soon as possible.  If rings are too tight to remove then they will usually need to be cut off in the hospital emergency department.

4. Apply RICE - rest, ice, compress and elevate – for pain and swelling.

5. Cover the wound with a dry, sterile dressing, or as clean and dry a dressing as you can.

6. If you can, splint the injured area to keep it still, but don’t straighten it.

Be careful not to wrap the area too tightly. If there is numbness, increased pain or swelling, or if the skin becomes cold, loosen the wrapping slightly.

7. Amputated parts.

If a finger or hand is completely amputated then it should be retrieved and transported to hospital with the injured person.  The amputated part should be placed in a watertight plastic bag, and this bag placed in a mixture of ice and water to keep the part cool (do not freeze it).

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