Hand Trauma

Key Points:



Hand fractures are among the top five most common fractures occurring in childhood. The highest incidence of phalangeal fractures occurs in the 0-4 year age group, at a rate of approximately 0.2% of children in that age group. Metacarpal fracture and carpal fractures occur slightly more rarely, at a rate of approximately 0.1% of children overall (Chung 2001). 


The major difference between adult and pediatric hand anatomy is the ongoing ossification of the hand and fingers in children. Ossification in the hand begins in the capitate between 1-3 months of age and progresses to the hamate. The scaphoid begins to ossify at the age of 5 years and the trapezoid and trapezium at 6 years.  The secondary ossification centers of the phalanges and metacarpals become apparent between 1-3 years, earlier in girls than boys. The physes of the phalanges begin to fuse for girls between 13-15 years old and 14-16 years for boys (Stuart 1962). 

Clinical Findings:

It is important to know when and how the injury occurred. Many children present late with hand injuries, as the initial injury can be underappreciated by the patient, family, and healthcare providers. The child’s hand should be examined for edema, bruising, and any open wounds. Sharp open wounds on the volar surface of the hand or forearm should be presumed to include a nerve and/or tendon injury unless a good exam or operative exploration proves otherwise. For finger injuries, the resting position of the affected digit in flexion and extension should be evaluated and compared with the contralateral side if necessary. Rotation of the digit can be assessed by examining the position of the nail plate. To assess for digital nerve injury, 2-point discrimination can be used in older, cooperative children. Semmes-Weinstein monofilament assessment can generally be performed in children after 4 or 5 years of age to test sensation. In younger children, the affected hand or finger can be immersed in water to assess for wrinkling of the skin. If the digital nerve is injured, the skin in the affected distribution will not wrinkle in water.

Imaging Studies:

Initial evaluation should include proper radiographs in nearly all cases to identify or rule out fractures. In-office fluoroscopy can be helpful in cases where a true lateral image is difficult to obtain through conventional radiography. Occasionally, CT scan is needed to fully evaluate intra-articular fractures in the hand and fingers. Ultrasound can be used to identify tendon injuries in young children who cannot comply with physical examination.


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Andrea Bauer MD