The Importance of Your Digits

Our hands and fingers are important in setting us apart from animals. The thumb is the most important digit that does this because of the opposition that is created (the ability of the thumb to touch the other fingers individually).

That means we are able to grasp and manipulate objects and that makes us truly special in our ability to do things. We use our hands every single day.  From the moment you turn off your alarm clock, to self-care, grooming and dressing; it is important to have your hands healthy and flexible. Serving plates, wiping down tabletops, holding food to cut, cleaning the stemware; all require dexterity and use of the digits and hands working well together.

The thumb joint is the most commonly used joint in the hands.  That means it can also degenerate faster because of its continual use (it’s a common site for arthritis).  Its strength and stability provides us with the ability to pinch and grasp. Damage to this area can be very debilitating and could be a very serious injury with long term ramifications.

The hands are very complex structures. It consists of multiple bones, tendons, ligaments and pulley systems made of connective tissue. These structures exist in such an intricate fashion that there are Certified Hand Therapists when you have significant injuries to your hand or fingers. The tendons on the palmar side of your hand are called flexor tendons and the ones on the backside of your hand are called extensor tendons. All tendons sit close to the skin so if you have a deep cut in your hand, you most likely can injure a tendon.

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I met Alan of Flinders Lane who had a very important story to share. He was cleaning the stemware one night when one of the glasses broke. The stem just snapped off from the glass and managed to puncture his thumb area. It didn’t really hurt; it didn’t really bleed. He didn’t think it was a big deal. He threw a band aid on it, finished the shift and went out to unwind.  He did think it was kind of odd that he couldn’t really bend his thumb so well afterward.

Alan happened to get it looked out right afterward because he had good healthcare in Australia. His therapist took one look and sent him to a physician. The issue: Alan had severed his thumb tendon and if it was not repaired immediately, it would retract back and not be able to be reattached which would mean long term loss of use.

He ended up having the surgical repair and was in physiotherapy for 2 years. He was taught exercises, his therapist performed the necessary manual work to restore normal mobility and flexibility in his muscles and tendons and he has fully resolved functional use of his hand.

Hand injuries are not something to take lightly. Because of their constant use and our significant reliance on them, it is best to see a physiotherapist or physician immediately if you notice any loss of function of your digits.  It could be a simple injury but if it’s a complex injury that needs to be handled immediately, you are better off getting checked out to make sure you make the right decisions.

Thankfully, Alan had great care and has recovered enough to move to NYC, take snapshots of him and his hand at tourist destinations and send them to his physio back on Oz. He is grateful for her quick and accurate diagnosis for what seemed to be a minor injury.

Dr. Karena Wu
Dr. Karena Wu is owner and Clinical Director of ActiveCare Physical Therapy. She has been practicing physical therapy for 16 years in New York City after she graduated from the Program In Physical Therapy at Columbia University. She received her clinical doctorate in physical therapy from Temple University. She has advanced training in manual therapies, specifically in the Maitland Australian Approach and Myofascial Release. Karena is a Certified Orthopedic Manual Therapist, Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Kinesiology Tape Practitioner and Pilates Instructor. She is also LSVT BIG, FMS and SFMA Level 1 Certified. Karena is a dedicated practitioner who takes a holistic approach to her practice. She actively networks with a team of physicians, chiropractors, acupuncturists and massage therapists. Her patient population consists of professional athletes, dancers, celebrity chefs, TV media stars, high end business professionals, and NYPD/FDNY. Karena is used as a healthcare expert on CBS, NBC, NY1, PIX11, Verizon Fios, Fox News and Dr. Oz. She is the Director of Education for SpiderTech Kinesiology Tape and is on the Medical Board of the Association of Volleyball Professionals. Visit her website at