When you think about hormones, you probably associate them with your reproductive system and don’t think much about how they affect the rest of your body. But women’s hormones change the way their bones and muscles form and age and may make them prone to a variety of stress- and repetitive-movement—related hand injuries. At the Fitzmaurice Hand Institute in Scottsdale, Arizona, our team has expertise in preventing and treating female hand injuries.
How estrogen affects your hands
Your ovaries make most of the sex hormones known as estrogens, though your adrenal glands and fatty tissue produce small amounts of them, too. Estrogen has many tasks, including triggering the release of a ripened egg each month during your menstrual cycle.
Estrogen also helps you build strong skin, muscles, and bones. The hormone even regulates energy metabolism in the muscles themselves and influences the viability and health of muscle cells.
Female athletes may be more prone to hand injuries and other sports injuries because training for more than 12 hours per week can trigger a phenomenon called the “female athlete triad”:
Women who trigger the female athlete triad may lose their periods for months or years at a time. Without sufficient estrogen, they start to develop some of the changes normally associated with menopause, such as brittle bones and increase their risk of stress fractures and broken bones. Cutting back on training and improving nutrition can reverse the female athlete triad.
Even if you’re not an athlete, you may develop hand problems when you’re pregnant or after childbirth, because of hormonal fluctuations that affect your soft tissues and bones. As you move past your 30s and into perimenopause and menopause, your estrogen levels decrease. This leads to muscle wasting and osteoporosis, which happens very quickly after menopause. As the muscles in your hands grow weak or atrophy and your bones become more brittle, you’re more prone to injure or fracture your hands.
If you’ve noticed changes in your skin and muscles due to aging and menopause, talk to your OB/GYN about hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT). Restoring youthful levels of estrogens and other hormones improve the quality and strength of your muscles and bones, and also helps you look and feel younger.
How what you do affects your hands
Any kind of repetitive motion increases your risk of hand injuries. Playing musical instruments, playing tennis professionally or as exercise, engaging in care-taking activities such as giving massages, or enjoying hobbies such as gardening or painting demand that you repeat the same movements over and over. The constant stress on aging muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints eventually wear them out and cause inflammation. The inflammation can compress nerves or degrade the cartilage in joints, leading to neuropathies or arthritis.
Dr. Fitzmaurice recommends performing hand, finger, and wrist exercises before and after engaging in repetitive tasks or motions. Exercises strengthen your muscles and tendons, plus increases blood flow to your hands to keep your tissues nourished and to flush away toxins that could cause inflammation. Ask Dr. Fitzmaurice about the types of warm-up and cool-down exercises you should do to keep your fingers, hands, and wrists safe.
Treatments for female hand injuries
At the Fitzmaurice Hand Institute, we’ve noticed that more women present with the following conditions. Being aware of these potential injuries can help you get treatment at the early stages, to improve your outcome.
Repetitive grasping and rheumatoid arthritis may cause inflammation in your first dorsal compartment — a tunnel that houses the tendons that run along the thumb side of your wrist. The main symptom is pain when you move your wrist or thumb. Dr. Fitzmaurice developed a minimally invasive procedure called the EndoTech® Endoscopic De Quervain’s Release to release the thickened tendon tunnel, allowing your tendons to move freely and painlessly again immediately after surgery. You can return to work within a week.
You’re more likely to develop arthritis in your thumb after the age of 40. Symptoms include pain when gripping objects or opening doors, and aching pain at the base of the thumb. Treatments include anti-inflammatory medications or minimally invasive surgery to remove bone spurs and reconstruct the joint. Dr. Fitzmaurice also uses minimally invasive EndoTech surgery to deliver regenerative cells to resurface the joint and repair cartilage, resulting in a success rate of more than 94%.
When swollen tendons press against the median nerve in your wrist, which runs through a narrow tube called the carpal tunnel, your hand and fingers may feel weak, tingling, or numb. Women often develop carpal tunnel in the last stages of pregnancy due to hormonal changes that cause inflammation and swelling. Dr. Fitzmaurice restores painless motion to your wrist, fingers, and hand with steroids, regenerative medicine, and minimally invasive EndoTech® surgery that releases the inflamed carpal tunnel.
Take care of your hands and stay aware of changes in your skin, muscles, and bones that could raise your risk for a hand injury. Contact the helpful Fitzmaurice Hand Institute to learn more about preventive exercises, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and minimally invasive EndoTech procedures with regenerative medicine that restore painless function again.