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Broken a Fall with Your Hand? How to Prevent a FOOSH Injury

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Learn more about this curious and common injury

Posted by Joseph Thoder, MD

You’ve probably never heard of a FOOSH injury, but if you’ve ever broken a fall with your hand, you may have already experienced one.

FOOSH is an unusual term for what’s known as “fall on an outstretched hand.” It’s one of the most common injuries seen in the Emergency Room, and can have a long-term effect on your fingers, hands, wrists, elbows or shoulders.

Here are some of the most common questions I get as an orthopaedic surgeon about FOOSH injuries and how to prevent them.

Who gets FOOSH injuries?

Tumbles and falls can happen to anyone, at any age. From toddlers to the elderly, from those who are sedentary to professional athletes, our natural response to a fall is often to extend our hand.

The force of the impact between your hand and the surface you fall on can create FOOSH injuries. These can range from bruising to complete fractures.

What are the most common ways people get FOOSH injuries?

There are countless ways to get FOOSH injuries. We see them in:

  • Adults who play high-impact sports such as football, skiing, soccer and cheerleading.
  • Older adults, who are at a higher risk for falls.

It’s also not uncommon to see people in the Emergency Room who:

  • Get tripped up by their own feet.
  • Have vertigo or episodes of dizziness and suffer from loss of coordination.
  • Get tackled on the football field.

What are some common injuries that occur due to a FOOSH?

We see everything from bruising to breaks in the fingers, hands, wrists, elbows and shoulders. Some of the more common FOOSH injuries are:

Bruising

Discoloration, swelling and pain in the area of the injury. Bruising generally goes away on its own with rest.

Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection at the site of the injury. This typically occurs in people who have compromised immune systems or in areas where there is a large wound. It’s important that we treat the infection so it does not spread or worsen.

Wrist fracture

If you have a break in one or more bones in your wrist, you may need to wear a brace or a cast while the bones heal. If the injury is severe, you may require surgery. Untreated scaphoid fractures can lead to long-term damage such as poor circulation and arthritis.

Radial head fracture

If you have wrist and/or elbow pain, the bone just below your elbow may be fractured. This is generally treated with anti-inflammatories, rest, immobilization of the elbow and physical therapy. Severe radial head fractures may require surgery.

Shoulder dislocation

Your shoulder may come out of joint as a result of your fall. This could be a partial dislocation or complete dislocation. Either way, the ball of your upper arm needs to be placed back into your joint socket. You may need to keep your shoulder in a sling for a few weeks while you heal.

How long does it take to recover from a FOOSH injury?

If your injury is mild, you may be back to normal within a couple of weeks.

If you’ve experienced a more severe injury that requires a cast or surgery, you will likely need physical therapy.

Complete recovery may take up to 2 months. Your doctor will let you know what to expect based on your specific injury.

What are some ways to prevent FOOSH injuries?

Falls can happen unexpectedly and are sometimes unavoidable. But you can take steps to prevent FOOSH injuries. Try the following:

  • Wear protective gear such as pads to cushion falls when you play sports.
  • Pick activities that match your fitness level.
  • Wear the right shoes and choose function over fashion.
  • Maintain eye health, and make sure you address any problems with your vision.
  • If you’re weak or have a health issue that causes you to lose your balance, talk to your doctor about walking aids.

If you think you have experienced a FOOSH injury, schedule an appointment with a Temple orthopaedic specialist to get checked out. Or, visit the Emergency Room if you have a more serious FOOSH injury.

Joseph Thoder, MD

Dr. Thoder is Program Director of Hand Surgery at Temple University Hospital with clinical interests in upper extremity surgery and hand, wrist and elbow arthritis. He is also Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, and consistently rated as a "Top Doctor" by Philadelphia magazine. 

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