These Uncommon Hand & Upper Extremity Fishing Injuries Can Really Happen!

Located on the Gulf of Mexico and home to hundreds of lakes, it’s no wonder that the Texas coast is the playground to fishing enthusiasts far and wide.

But even the seasoned sportsman can fall victim to some unlikely fishing injuries affecting the hand and upper extremity. In fact, those who fish put themselves in danger every time they come in contact with marine life – their unpredictable behavior, the aggressive and often forceful nature of a catch, the prevalence of less commonly treated bacteria, unsanitary tools/equipment, and poor wound care – all contribute to a variety of injuries that hand specialists see in a region like the Texas Gulf Coast.

Uncommon Hand & Upper Extremity Fishing Injuries and Conditions

Though very little surprises hand specialists practicing in a “sportsman’s paradise,” an unusual injury will occasionally make its way to an area clinic.

Unlike other injuries that break the skin, fishing injuries are particularly concerning.  Fish and other marine life carry bacterial infections both in their body and on their skin, which can adversely affect humans. Some types of bacteria found in marine life are not commonly seen and do not respond to antibiotics traditionally used for infections.

Sting Ray Laceration
While many stingray injuries involve inadvertent encounters between a foot and a barb, some have occurred to the hand or wrist during its removal from a fishing net or line.

These types of lacerations require more than bandaging.  Not only does the barb pierce sharply, stingrays are armed with at least one serrated venomous spine at the base of their whip-like tail.  Short-tail stingrays have two tail spines: a slender spike and a large, jagged bayonet.

In addition to muscle, tendon and nerve damage possible from physical impalement of the barb, its venom is comprised of many different substances resulting in tissue breakdown and necrosis.

Sting Ray venom symptoms may include:

  • Immediate and severe pain radiating up the affected limb
  • Bleeding and swelling of area
  • Sweating
  • Faintness, dizziness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Salivation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Shortness of breath

Medical attention is recommended for all sting ray injuries.  Minimally, the wound should be cleaned with warm water to remove venom. A tetanus booster is required if more than five years since the last booster. Tetanus prevention is required if the patient has never had a tetanus vaccination.  Antibiotics may also be required, and depending on the severity of the injury and extent of soft tissue damage (resulting from delay of treatment), surgical intervention and/or a period of rehabilitation may be required to restore hand function.

Fish Bite and Impalement

While not every fish injury comes with a venomous double blow, the high risk of bacterial infection and soft tissue damage are equally serious.  Many fish have sharp teeth, tails and pointed features that can easily break the skin.  Wrestling in the unwilling catch can leave some sportsmen a bit worse for the wear.

Aside from marine life bacterial concerns and infection risks, the forceful impact from a sharp feature can result in soft tissue damage that may require surgical repair and/or months of rehabilitation to restore hand and upper extremity function. Delay in treatment can lead to complicated tenosynovitis and horseshoe abscess.  Additionally, marine life bacterial infections resulting from Mycobacterium marinum (M. marinum) do not respond to some conventional antibiotics such as amoxicillin.

Fish Handler’s Disease

Not every fishing-related infection is the result of an obvious injury/wound.  The condition, Fish Handler’s Disease, can impact those frequently handling fish.  Any inconspicuous cut or small opening on the skin (commonly on the hand) can allow bacteria to enter the body.

Common symptoms include swelling, tenderness, and bluish-purple spots. Treatment includes antibiotics specific to this type of bacterial infection.  Recovery can take months.

Lodged Fish Bones, Fin Spine

Occasionally when handling fish, a fish bone or fin spine can become lodged. Though this may not be painful or immediately worrisome, residual fragments of foreign organic matter may be left in the soft tissue – predisposing to secondary infections such as Staphylococci and Streptococci.

While x-rays can usually identify a foreign body in the tissue, an MRI may be indicated to identify fine fin spines, tiny bones.

Surgical removal of the foreign body is important.  Failure to remove it could lead to persistent infection, hospitalization and possibly permanent disability. Despite the appearance of healing, if the area remains tender, swollen, discolored, or abnormal in any way, a hand specialist is recommended.  Surgery and antibiotic treatment may be required, followed by rehabilitation to regain hand function.

Prevention and Precautions

Understanding the unique aspects of the marine life in your area and utilizing protective gloves and garments while fishing can go a long way in injury prevention.  As the largest organ of the human body, skin serves as a protective barrier – any compromised area compromises the entire body. Individuals with other health conditions, such as diabetes or immune deficiency disorders, should be particularly cautious and consult a hand specialist for proper wound care.

 

 

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