QUESTION

It looks like I have a small bruise on my palm right beneath my middle finger. But the odd thing is, that finger feels a bit numb. I don’t recall injuring my hand. Should I be concerned?

ANSWER

Possibly. Our hands have so many bones, joints, nerves and connective tissue that something as simple as blocking a fall or using a tool can cause an injury. Based on your description, it’s likely a contusion—aka a bruise. However, the numbness you describe complicates matters. Anytime there’s numbness in the hand (or any other extremity) that lasts for more than a week, it warrants a visit to a primary care physician. That’s because hand numbness also can signal an unexpected underlying condition not related to the injury, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, a pinched nerve or even diabetes, which can damage nerves—especially those leading to the extremities. To investigate the cause of the numbness, your doctor should evaluate muscle strength and numbness in all your extremities and, depending on the findings of that evaluation, perhaps recommend further studies and/or refer you to a neurologist.

If your hand had only a bruise, this would probably not require medical attention. As you know, a bruise is a small bleed into the skin that typically occurs after some kind of physical trauma. Many people experience “easy bruising” and don’t necessarily recall an injury when they first notice the bruise. Small bruises on hands, arms and legs, for example, are typically caused by a minor injury such as bumping into a table or door.

Older adults, of course, tend to bruise more easily because their skin is thinner and blood vessels more fragile. But people of all ages are often more likely to bruise if they take medications that thin the blood, such as aspirin and anticoagulants or supplements, including fish oil and ginkgo biloba. Most people don’t realize that, in some cases, even a vigorous workout, such as weight lifting, can lead to bruising, when overtaxed muscles cause small tears in blood vessels.

Whenever a person first notices a bruise, it may be helpful to apply ice (a bag of frozen peas works just fine) for 15 to 20 minutes. This helps constrict blood vessels and reduce blood flow, minimizing the bruising. For most people, a bruise takes about two weeks to heal, gradually lightening in color as the leaked blood is absorbed back into the body.