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Pumpkins, turkeys and avocados: common hand injuries and how to avoid them


By Christina Ward, MD

What do pumpkins, turkeys and avocados have in common? Lots of people love to carve, cut or eat them – especially during this fall season.

As a hand surgeon working at TRIA Orthopedics, I see many hand and arm injuries from these common activities. There are some easy steps you can take to prevent these injuries from happening. As you prepare to celebrate the season’s festivities, take a moment to learn about the most common injuries, what to do about them and most importantly, how to prevent them.

Pumpkin Carving

Every year around this time, I see many patients who accidentally hurt themselves while carving pumpkins for Halloween. Most of these injuries result from improper equipment or carving technique. You can prevent your pumpkin carving from going wrong with these simple tips.

Ditch the knives and use a pumpkin carving kit. Many people think kitchen knives will do the trick, but these put you at greater risk for injury. Instead, use a pumpkin carving kit, which comes with a small, serrated knife without a sharp point. A sharp knife is not always better because it may either slip through the pumpkin or become wedged in the thick pumpkin tissue, requiring force to remove it. Injuries from a sharp knife are more likely to cause a deep penetrating cut. The serrated tools in carving kits are inexpensive and are much easier to navigate through the pumpkin without slipping or getting stuck.

Always cut away from yourself. Every year, I see patients who were trying to hold the pumpkin with one hand while cutting toward themselves with the other hand. This often results in accidentally cutting or stabbing the hand or arm. As you carve your pumpkin, make sure you’re always applying the force away from your body to avoid injury.

Place the pumpkin on a flat surface. Many injuries happen simply from holding the pumpkin up with one hand instead of letting it sit on an even surface. This places the hand in a vulnerable position if the carving knife slips, gets stuck or slides. Instead, put the pumpkin on a flat surface, hold it steady with one hand, and cut away from yourself with the other hand.

Turkey Carving

With fall comes holiday baking and cooking. Around this time of year, I often see patients with hand and arm injuries from food preparation – including turkey carving. Keep the following tips in mind when preparing your turkey or other food items this season.

Take your time. Lots of food prep involves sharp knives, which can easily slip if not handled carefully. Make sure you take your time as you slice the turkey or cut up other foods.

Cut away from yourself. This idea is the same for pumpkins, turkeys or any other item you are cutting with a knife – always move the knife blade away from your body to avoid cutting yourself. Place the turkey (or other item) flat on a surface, and put your free hand flat on top to steady it.  Then, you can use your other hand to slice without cutting toward your hand.

Keep tools out of reach of little hands. Around the holidays, a kitchen can become a busy place with lots of people and lots of food prep items. Make sure you keep knives and other sharp or dangerous items out of reach.

Avocados

While avocados may not be a seasonal food, it’s always a good idea to be aware of common avocado-related injuries and tactics to avoid them. I often see patients with avocado hand, an injury that occurs when the knife you’re using to cut an avocado slips through and cuts your hand or fingers.

Before you reach for another avocado, make sure you know these helpful tips to avoid a trip to the emergency room or urgent care clinic.

It’s all about how you hold the avocado. You can avoid most avocado-related injuries by adjusting the way you hold the fruit. Most injuries happen by holding the avocado in one hand while slicing straight into the fruit with the other hand. Instead, place the avocado on a flat surface, hold it steady with one hand and cut away from yourself with the other hand.

Use a spoon. Scraping the avocado out with a knife can also result in injury. Instead of using a knife, it can be just as effective (and much safer) to score the avocado with a knife and then use a big spoon to scoop it out.

Don’t use a dull knife. Some people think using a dull knife, such as a butter knife, is safer. This can actually cause injury because a dull knife requires you to push harder, making the knife more likely to slip. Instead of using a dull knife, focus on using proper technique when cutting into any food item such as an avocado. Cut carefully, slowly and smoothly and make sure you avoid stabbing or slicing too quickly.

What happens if I injure my hand or arm?

If you do experience an injury when cutting a pumpkin, turkey, avocado or other item this fall, don’t panic. Many of these injuries can be treated easily or with a few stitches. Here are some tips if you’re unsure how to care for your injury:

  • Bleeding from minor cuts will often stop on its own by applying direct pressure. If continuous pressure does not slow or stop the bleeding after 15 minutes, an emergency room visit may be required.
  • Come in to an emergency room or urgent care if you either cannot fully move your finger after a cut, or have numbness in your finger after a cut. Because of the small size of the tendons and nerves in the hand, a cut of just 1 cm can cut through a tendon or nerve- which is a problem that requires surgery to fix. 
  • If it’s not bleeding too much, you can still go to urgent care or orthopedic urgent care to have it looked at. Any finger or hand lacerations (cuts) can be treated at TRIA’s Orthopedic Urgent Care.

When you come in for care, a hand surgeon will examine your hand for nerve or tendon damage. There are many ways to test for nerve or tendon damage; hand therapists can manipulate the hand without an MRI to see if any of the nerves or tendons are cut. They can also test for numbness or other sensation issues in the hand and fingers.

If surgery is needed, our hand surgeons will perform the surgery. You can see a hand therapist right here at our clinic following your surgery. Depending on the injury, your hand therapist will help you with exercises or any necessary splints.

With these tips in mind, you are ready to enjoy a fun and safe holiday season. And if you or someone you love does experience an injury, you’ll find the treatment you need at TRIA’s Orthopedic Urgent Care.

About Christina Ward, MD
I treat hand and wrist problems from common (carpal tunnel syndrome) to complex (wrist fractures and dislocations), but have a special interest in hand and wrist trauma including distal radius fractures, intercarpal injuries and distal radial-ulnar joint problems. I like the intricate anatomy of the hand and enjoy treating a variety of conditions. I work with our wonderful team of nurses, physician assistants, surgeons and hand therapists to improve hand care for all patients. Hand surgery research is an important part of my practice; I have published research in scientific journals, presented at conferences, and also serve as director of HealthPartners Hand Surgery Fellowship that provides an additional year of specialized hand surgery training for two surgeons every year.

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