12 INVESTIGATES: Breakthrough for hand injuries

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - From our touch screen phones to email, texting and social media, our hands get a workout. The Centers for Disease Control estimates one in every five adults has been diagnosed with some form of arthritis.

Now hand specialists are busier than ever - and they are making medical break throughs that are changing lives.

A few months ago, shooting hoops would have been impossible for 11-year-old Maggie Strickler. She was practicing with one of those portable hoops in her driveway, and during a dunk, the hoop came crashing down.

Maggie: "Like that, like over on my face and my hand."

Rachel: "What happened to your hand?"

Maggie: "It got crushed."

Swollen and unable to bend her fingers, Maggie's parents rushed her to the emergency room.

"It looked horrible," said Maggie's dad, Al Strickler. "Her face was all black and blue and swollen. Her hand was smashed."

Days later, she was still in pain, unable to move her fingers.

"We thought it would be a good idea for her to see a hand specialist," said Al.

They were worried the injury could turn permanent. That's exactly what happened to Tonya Mallory - as a child, she put her hand through a glass door. The ER doctors never realized her growth plate and radius were actually broken. As she grew up, the injury didn't heal correctly.

"My ulna had pushed through the tendons and ligaments," said Tonya. "Overtime, I had very little functionality of my hand."

Now the CEO of Health Diagnostic Laboratories, what bothered Tonya the most was a simple handshake.

"We are in a world where hand shakes mean a lot," said Tonya. "Professionally, it meant a lot to me... and I couldn't. It was almost embarrassing because of the strength of my hand shake."

Hand injuries, deformed fingers. Carpal tunnel and bad arthritis are no longer something you just have to live with.

"I think today, people are more educated, because they can look on the web and find information," said Dr. Keith Glowacki. "So I'm getting people much earlier than I used to 15 years ago."

Glowacki is a hand, wrist, and elbow specialist with Advanced Orthopaedics. At times, he treats as many as 140 patients a week - double what he saw just 10 years ago.

One of the most common problems? Rheumatoid arthritis.

"Today, we can replace joints in all the fingers of the hand and actually give that person a lot more function," said Glowacki.

Titanium plates and screws are changing the recovery of wrist fractures.

"We're fixing a lot of fractures now, which we didn't use to 10 years ago."

There are tubes woven with collagen that allow severed nerves to grow back together. Joint replacement is his newest trick. He rebuilt Tonya Mallory's ulna.

"The pain is gone," said Tonya. "I have functionality that I haven't had for over 10 years."

Smaller stints and physical therapy got Maggie back on the court.

When it comes to hand, wrist and elbow injuries and pain, the sooner you see someone, the less likely it is you'll have to have surgery.

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