Describing where things are on the hand

hand-descriptions

For being such a small anatomic location, people find it very difficult to describe where on the hand or digits things are actually happening when there is an injury.

I think part of it stems back to medical school when we are taught that the digits all have numbers, the thumb is D1, index D2 and so forth. The problem comes when people say “the 3rd finger” and all of the sudden one has no idea whether they are talking about the long finger (D3) or the ring finger (D4 but then, the thumb doesn’t count as a finger, does it?)

Which finger (digit?!) is which?

This is why it’s always best to call digits by their names, this even goes for metacarpals. It is totally OK, and generally less confusing to call a bone the index finger metacarpal.

  1. Thumb = D1
  2. Index = D2
  3. Long = D3
  4. Ring = D4
  5. Small = D5

Which side of the hand?

The same goes for which side of the hand the problem is on. There is no lateral or medial side to the hand. One could argue that it’s how someone is in anatomical position, so obviously the small finger side is medial, unfortunately very few people walk around in anatomic position and it’s their thumbs that point to the body.

So best to describe side by two things that stay put regardless of how someone has their hands in space: the radius and the ulna.

  • Thumb side = RADIAL
  • Small finger side = ULNAR

Finally for the top and bottom (or is it back and front) of the hands: use the terms DORSAL (where the nails are) and VOLAR (or palmar)

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

crps

Hypo/Hyperalgesia:Decreased/increased sensitivity to a usually-painful stimulus (e.g., pinprick).
Hypo/Hyperesthesia: Decreased/increased sensation to a usually-innocuous stimulus (e.g., light touch).
Allodynia: Sensation of pain from a usually-innocuous stimulus (e.g., light touch).

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) refers to a chronic neuropathic pain condition with a broad and varied range of  clinical presentations. CRPS patients experience severe pain out of proportion to their original injury, and this may start at the time of injury or weeks later. The pain is described as deep-seated and burning/aching/shooting. Sesnory changes are common, including hypo/hyperesthesia, hypo/hyperalgesia, and allodynia. For instance, many patients describe not being able to tolerate the sensation of bedsheets on their painful limb.

In the affected area, there is often marked edema, temperature asymmetry (usually cooler), and sweating changes (usually increased). Loss of hair and nail growth is common, and disuse of the limb can result in weakness, muscle atrophy, and contractures.

The diagnosis is made clinically, using the Budapest Criteria. Some pain physicians use a nuclear medicine test, three-phase bone scintigraphy, for CRPS diagnosis but this test is becoming less popular, since it has a low positive predictive value.

Budapest Criteria

  1. Pain, ongoing and disproportionate to any inciting event
  2. Symptoms: at least one symptom in three of the four categories:
    • Sensory: reports of hyperesthesia and/or allodynia
    • Vasomotor: reports of temperature asymmetry and/or skin color changes and/or skin color asymmetr
    • Sudomotor/edema: reports of edema and/or sweating changes and/or sweating asymmetry
    • Motor/trophic: reports of decreased range of motion and/or motor dysfunction (weakness, tremor, dystonia) and/or trophic changes (hair, nail, skin)
  3. Physical Signs: at least one sign at time of evaluation in two or more categories:
    • Sensory: evidence of hyperalgesia (to pinprick) and/or allodynia (to light touch and/or deep somatic pressure and/or 
joint movement)
    • Vasomotor: evidence of temperature asymmetry and/or skin color changes and/or asymmetry
    • Sudomotor/edema: evidence of edema and/or sweating changes and/or sweating asymmetry
    • Motor/trophic: evidence of decreased range of motion and/or motor dysfunction (weakness, tremor, dystonia) and/or trophic changes (hair, nail, skin)
  4. No other diagnosis better explains the signs and symptoms

CRPS is classified as Type I when there is no apparent history of nerve damage, and Type II when associated with definite peripheral nerve injury. CRPS most commonly occurs following fractures and immobilization, but can happen even with little to no trauma.The pathophysiology is thought to involve autonomic dysfunction and inflammation, but much is still unknown.

CRPS affects females about 2-4 times more often than males, and onset is usually in middle age (though there are rare pediatric cases reported). It is a progressive disease that can result in spread of pain, sensory disturbances, and physical changes to other limbs.

Treatment for CRPS may involve physiotherapy, complementary medicine (e.g., acupuncture, qi gong) psychological therapies, and a variety of pharmacologic (e.g., NSAIDs, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, opioids, ketamine, bisphosphonates) and interventional procedures (nerve blocks, sympathectomy, neurostimulators). As with all things CRPS, there isn’t great evidence for any particular intervention.

  • Harden RN, Bruehl S, Perez RSGM, Birklein F, Marinus J, Maihofner C, Lubenow T, Buvanendran A, Mackey S, Graciosa J, Mogilevski M, Ramsden C, Chont M, Vatine J-J. Validation of proposed diagnostic criteria (the “Budapest Criteria”) for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. Pain; 150:268.
  • Hord E-D. Complex regional pain syndrome. In: Massachusetts General Hospital Handbook of Pain Management (Eds: Ballantyne JC, Fields HL). Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  • Moon JY, Park SY, Kim YC, Lee SC, Nahm FS, Kim H, Oh SW. 2012. Analysis of  patterns of three-phase bone scintigraphy for patients with complex regional pain syndrome diagnosed using the proposed research criteria (the ‘Budapest Criteria’). British Journal of Anesthesia; 108:655.
  • O’Connell NE, Wand BM, McAuley J, Marston L, Moseley GL. Interventions for treating pain and disability in adults with complex regional pain syndrome – an overview of systematic reviews. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews; 4:CD009416.
  • Schwartzman RJ, Erwin KL, Alexander GM. 2009. The natural history of complex regional pain syndrome. Clinical Journal of Pain; 25:273.
  • Smith H, Popp AJ. The patient with chronic pain syndromes. In: A Guide to the Primary Care of Neurological Disorders (Eds: Popp AJ, Deshaies EM). Thieme.
  • Tran DQH, Duong S, Bertini P, Finlayson RJ. Treatment of complex regional pain syndrome: a review of the evidence. Canadian Journal of Anesthesiology; 57:149.

Rotator Cuff: Subscapularis

The rotator cuff is composed of four muscles

  1. Supraspinatus – abduction
  2. Infraspinatus – external rotation
  3. Teres minor – external rotation
  4. Subscapularis – internal rotation

Rotator cuff injuries are incredibly common and it is helpful to figure out which of the four muscles is the major source of the problem (there is of course the possibility that multiple ones are injured/irritated).

For the subscapular (innervated by the suprascapular nerve C5,6) you can test internal rotation of the arm. The patient places the dorsum of their hand on their lower back. The examiner then pushes on the hand while the patient tries to lift the hand from the lower back. Pain or weakness is a positive test.

Rotator Cuff: Infraspinatus & Teres Minor

The rotator cuff is composed of four muscles

  1. Supraspinatus – abduction
  2. Infraspinatus – external rotation
  3. Teres minor – external rotation
  4. Subscapularis – internal rotation

Rotator cuff injuries are incredibly common and it is helpful to figure out which of the four muscles is the major source of the problem (there is of course the possibility that multiple ones are injured/irritated).

For the infraspinatus (innervated by the suprascapular nerve C5,6)  and the teres minor (innervated by the axillary nerve, C 5,6) you can test external rotation of the arm. The patient holds the arm next the body (adducted) with the elbow flexed to 90 degrees. The examiner then attempts to internally rotate the arm while the patient resists. Pain or weakness is a positive test.

Rotator Cuff: Supraspinatus (empty can test)

The rotator cuff is composed of four muscles

  1. Supraspinatus – abduction
  2. Infraspinatus – external rotation
  3. Teres minor – external rotation
  4. Subscapularis – internal rotation

Rotator cuff injuries are incredibly common and it is helpful to figure out which of the four muscles is the major source of the problem (there is of course the possibility that multiple ones are injured/irritated).

For the supraspinatus (innervated by the suprascapular nerve C5,6) you can do the “empty can test“. The patient holds out the affected arm (abducts) with elbow extended and wrist pronated. Like they were, in fact, pouring out a can of soda (or “pop” as we call it here). The examiner then pushes down on the extended arm and the patient tries to resist. Pain or weakness is a positive test.

Holding Hands (the hand exam)

This wasn’t even going to be an education post, but I got guilted into it. The original is 18×24″, oil on canvas.

The hand exam

  • Inspection: You can use the acronym SEADS: swelling, erythema, atrophy, deformity, skin changes. Remember: you should be able to see their whole arm up to the elbows
  • Palpation: You can use the acronym TEST CA: tenderness, effusion, swelling, temperature, crepitations, atrophy
  • Range of Motion and Power: Do active, if it’s not full you can then check passive.
  • Special Tests: fancy things for carpal tunnel like Phalen’s and Tinel’s
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