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ARTICLE

Hand Injuries and Puzzles



I must first state that I am not a doctor and this article does not contain any medical advice, treatment or diagnosis (see disclaimer).


I have over the many years of playing with various puzzles that require the use of my hands encountered a number of issues or scenarios that have resulted in damage or injuries to my hands. These injuries or damage that I have sustained have always been minor ones that have not had too much of an impact on how my hands function and have only taken a few days at most to recover from but I have learned from these incidents that caused them and have developed my own ways to avoid hurting myself again playing these puzzles or similar ones. When I have been injured or hurt by a puzzle I can be wary about playing it again immediately afterwards particularly if it was painful or if a puzzle keeps causing me pain but I have found that I have been able to avoid most of what is causing these injuries or pain from happening again by adjusting the way I play with the puzzle and knowing from experience what dangers to look out for. Of course, some injuries or incidents I have had have been freak occurrences that are very unlikely to happen again and therefore have not made adjustments for these type of incidents. There are some types of puzzles or features of them that I have found offer more of a threat to my hands than others with some being completely harmless unless I do something I am not supposed to with them. Obviously, my hands are important to me for everyday life so keeping these healthy is very important and would be extremely problematic if I couldn't use one of or both of them. So here are the issues that I have encountered with various puzzles that have caused some level of harm to my hand or hands and what I have done to avoid them happening again.


First of all, I make sure I read the instructions before I start with any puzzle as that is where there will be safety instructions and inform me if there is anything potentially hazardous about the product that I should note and take into consideration. These safety instructions could come in the form of a booklet or they could be on the packaging but I make sure I check both to be sure I don't miss any information. Safety instructions will contain information on how I should safely operate the challenge which may be a written description or in the form of diagrams and visual illustrations. There should also be on the packaging or possibly in the instruction manual information of what age the product is suitable for and this also means safe to use for but as I am an adult and the only one using it I don't check this. When I get a puzzle for the first time I just want to get playing with it but the instructions do often contain useful information besides the safety aspects of it and I make sure I at least scan through it which can be a tedious exercise at times but I have found it to be many times worthwhile to do so. The safety instructions may also inform me that the challenge needs something extra that is not included with the product to use it safely for example gloves and that is another reason to I read the instructions before attempting the puzzle.


I will after going through the instructions then check for sharp pointy parts or edges on the puzzle that could potentially scratch or cut me by first of all looking at the picture of the puzzle on the box or packaging but this may not give every viewpoint or angle so I will then inspect the actual puzzle by picking it up with the parts of it that are obviously safe and look at every side of it to inspect it closely and thoroughly for sharp bits. For some puzzles, this will be easy for me to do as the puzzle could be for instance one piece that is round with a smooth surface and therefore won't take that long to ascertain that it is safe in terms of the exterior cutting or pricking my hands. Some however I have found can have hidden sharp pieces within it that are revealed only when it is opened up or the pieces of it are moved or the puzzle is transformed. I will always be careful and proceed slowly when opening a puzzle up or moving the pieces of a puzzle to give myself as much time as possible to adjust to and avoid any hidden sharp pieces that could suddenly show up. If a puzzle does have sharp points to it then I will first use the safety instructions or instruction manual for guidance and if that is not helpful then I will try to visualize in my head and use common sense as to how to hold it and operate it to avoid contact with these sharp points. The pointy bits of a puzzle I often find to be just part of the visual design and have no part to play in how to solve it so the manoeuvres that do solve it should not involve the hands catching these sharp points and if they are I am very likely doing them wrong. How many sharp points there are on the puzzle and how big they are and where they are positioned are all factors I have found for the likeliness of me getting caught by one. Catching a sharp point of a puzzle at speed when trying to solve it quickly is what has mostly lead to cuts to my hands with regards to puzzles and the worst cuts I have experienced have been when the puzzle is made of metal. I will only operate a puzzle that has sharp protrusions on it quickly once I know how to use it without catching them so will always start using and solving it slowly and build the speed up the more familiar I am with it. The cuts when I do get them are mostly just a scratch and occasionally cause a small amount of bleeding that I take care of with just a plaster but I never feel as if I am in danger of having a finger sliced off with any of the puzzles I have used or anything serious like that.


I will also check for anywhere that my finger or fingers could get trapped as this is a problem that I have encountered on a few occasions and mainly with metal and wooden assembly challenges. The problem I have experienced with getting my finger or fingers trapped is that it can be on rare occasions difficult to get it back out like getting a ring stuck on your finger. When this occurs I will either use some sort of lubricant to help get it off or try using sheer force as long as I think there will be minimal damage to the trapped finger or I will try to make the gap the finger is stuck in bigger by manoeuvring the puzzle pieces or pulling the gap apart. If my finger or fingers do get caught then there is a risk of the puzzle breaking when trying to free them so I try to be as slow and gentle as possible when removing them but there may not be any other way than to break my puzzle to free myself although I have never found this to be the case. The other danger I have encountered is getting my finger or fingers or a piece of my hand caught between two puzzle pieces or in the hole of one and then when the pieces are moved by me they crush that body part or pinch it. An example that has happened to me would be taking a metal disassembly challenge apart or putting it together which can require a lot of twisting of the pieces or feeding one puzzle piece through the other which requires precise and delicate manoeuvers and I have often found it is easy to place my fingers where they shouldn't and then they get caught and hurt when I continued to manoeuvre the puzzle pieces. The solution to a puzzle I have found will be one that has been designed not to allow my fingers or any other body part getting caught or trapped when performed correctly but when I start out I don't know the correct solution and I will often do it wrong while trying to figure this out which could mean I put my fingers in harm way. To avoid this before starting the puzzle I check the packaging and instruction manual for any guidance on this issue and see if they recommend anything in terms of how to handle it. I will inspect the puzzle before starting to solve and manoeuvre it for anywhere I could potentially get a finger stuck or caught and try to visualize the manoeuvres in my head before I do them which can help me avoid any potential hazards. The first time I try to solve a puzzle I will go slowly and in stages to ensure I can plan ahead and avoid any danger and once solved then try to improve the speed at which I solve it as going too fast is often when an incident like this will happen to me as speed can lead to mistakes. Some puzzles I play with constantly transform as I apply a move so a danger of getting a body pay part trapped that wasn't initially apparent at the beginning of the challenge can appear when a move is applied and when the puzzle is in a new state and this is why it is important until I know it inside out to go slowly with it so I have time to adjust.


The surface of some of the puzzles I have played with have been damaging to my skin and I am particularly wary of wooden ones with this issue as they can sometimes have a quite rough outer surface that has even left splinters in me. Metal or plastic puzzles can also have rough surfaces as a design may have been incorporated into them that causes them to be rough and I always try to inspect the puzzle thoroughly before I start playing with one for any abrasive parts and visualize if my hands will come into contact with these parts when performing the required manoeuvres. When I find a puzzle has a rough exterior I am careful to avoid it rubbing against my skin and will operate it slowly if the contact is unavoidable and for short periods of time with significant breaks in between. When a puzzle has rubbed away at my skin and left wounds then these can be quite painful and I will usually wait until after the wound is fully healed before returning to what has caused it. If the wound is taking a while to heal I may play with puzzle again before it has healed as long as it is not painful to do so and my wound has been covered and protected sufficiently so it will heal and not get worse. Gloves I have also considered as an answer to this problem, for example, speedcubing gloves which might protect my hands from certain puzzles but have been designed with speed cubes in mind so may not be as suitable for other types of puzzles and I may have to try a few different types of gloves out to find a suitable pair. Speedcubing gloves are fingerless which means they don't cover and potentially protect the whole hand but have been designed to combat sweat and that they don't restrict the movement of the hands as this would slow down hand movements and therefore times. Wearing gloves to do a puzzle does seem over the top but if they do the job of protecting my hands whilst no restricting hand movement then I won't mind feeling a bit silly wearing them. The correct solution to any challenge I have found will be one that doesn't harm my hands so if it is then it is probably being solved incorrectly and a new approach should be sought by me. I will consult the instruction guide for how to play with a puzzle and any safety advice before starting to solve it as it may show how to handle it correctly to avoid this issue. If the puzzle is wooden then I have in the past sanded one down if it has been rough and has caused this issue but I am wary of doing this as the look of it can be transformed in a negative way by doing this. Splinters can be sometimes difficult to spot on a puzzle if they are tiny or in a place that is not in my view as I am solving it and if one does get stuck in me then it can be tricky to remove if it is small and has buried itself under my skin but I have found using a sewing needle usually gets it out without much problem.


A way I have hurt myself playing with a puzzle in the past is trying to use force to solve one particularly with assembly/disassemble ones and this is usually done out of frustration after I have tried many potential solutions and I am trying to make it work the way I want it to not the way it is supposed to. This sort of incident can really hurt as the pieces that I am dealing with are made usually of metal and sometimes wood and when these pieces catch me at speed or with a lot of pressure they have caused quite a bit of pain and damage. The solution to any puzzle I have noticed particularly an assembly/disassembly type will almost always require little force to solve it and when force is being applied by myself this is a telltale sign that the incorrect move is being applied and I should have a rethink. When trying to solve an assembly/disassembly challenge it can be that there is no obvious next move which may require creative or outside the box thinking to find the correct manoeuvre and it is in this situation I am most careful and with the benefit of experience will now not force the move like I would have in the past. The specific moves that have resulted in me hurting myself have been trying to pull two pieces apart by force or forcing one piece through a gap of the other piece but I have quickly learnt to stop forcing a move because of the pain inflicted on myself and having damaged a few puzzles and to search for a move that can be done smoothly. When solving a puzzle for the first time it is better to work through it slowly step by step in a considerate way and when I am frustrated that I am not making progress I just step away from it and come back to it when I have patience and possibly a better idea what the next move could be. There are occasions when a challenge does require a bit of force to solve it and it can be difficult to tell if this is the correct solution or not but it will usually be the only move left after I have exhausted all other options and shouldn't require extreme force just a small amount of force. Forcing a move with a puzzle can lead to it breaking which can be particularly unfortunate and upsetting if it is brand new or expensive so this is another reason I am careful when solving one.


Puzzles do jam or lock up on me occasionally which can be painful sometimes when it happens but has never resulted in me having a big injury usually just momentary pain if that. How painful this has been often depended on how fast I was operating the puzzle at the time, the type of puzzle I was operating, how much of a grip I had on it and if my fingers had been positioned inside the puzzle. A puzzle as I have experienced can suddenly just jam up without any warning signs but often there are signs I look out for like the manoeuvring of one is slower than usual or it starts to stick slightly or the pieces of the challenge are catching each other when they shouldn't be. It can be very annoying when one does lock up suddenly without warning which has happened to me when I have had a very good rhythm going and the possibility of a very fast time. One jamming up can just happen because I have overused it so over time and with frequent use of the puzzle it has structurally changed from when it was brand new and it no longer operates smoothly as it did in the beginning. I will lubricate the puzzle if it is suitable to do so especially with one such as speed cube in which jamming up is a common problem and has worked successfully for me in the past. If the puzzle is made of wood then I may try to smooth the pieces that are jamming up or coming into contact with each other by sanding them down and maybe even applying a finish. Looking after a puzzle properly and using it correctly is what I try to do with all of mine to ensure that they last as long as possible and still function in an optimal way. In the instructions that accompany the challenge it may even warn of this problem and what to look out for and how to respond to it jamming up so I will check these before I start using it. A puzzle can just lock up on me without warning and that is just one of those risks I take when playing with one and I hope when it does happen that the result won't be too bad in terms of an injury. I have had to in the past take one apart once it has jammed up in order to get it functioning normally again and this can be with some a slow and irritating experience as there can be many parts to certain puzzles which are small and delicate and I don't want to break the puzzle whilst unjamming it. A puzzle could be clogged up with dirt or junk which may require it to be taken apart to clean it or if I can't take it apart then I improvise ways to get the dirt out of the crevices by possibly sucking the dirt out with a vacuum cleaner or try using cotton buds.


I won't play with a puzzle for too long that requires my hands when it is strenuous to use and if I do I will make sure I take plenty of sufficient in length breaks in order to give my hands a rest. The puzzle may be strenuous for my hands because the pieces of it are weighty, the pieces or parts of it require a certain amount of force to move them and that I may have to contort my hands in order to solve it. It can also demand movements from my hands that they don't usually make in normal everyday life and it is these movements I find to be hard work and takes plenty of repetition to get good at them and feel less demanding. The breaks I take from one to rest my hands may come about naturally because I have to contemplate my next move and whilst contemplating I can put it down and visualize how I will solve it. Sometimes my hands can cramp up if I have overdone it and then I will usually just stop and leave it for another day as when my hands do seize up with cramp I usually can't grip the puzzle properly or perform quick actions anymore so continuing further would be either pointless or not fun. I have experienced that the more regularly I play with a physically demanding for my hands puzzle the easier my hands find it to cope with the demands placed on them by it, especially if I am using it daily. When I have returned to a puzzle after a while without playing it and it has been particularly strenuous for the hands it can be very gruelling for my hands at first even if the last time I played with it my hands had got used to it. If a puzzle looks like it is going to be very demanding for the hands then I will operate it slowly at first and for short periods and gradually spend more time with it and try to operate and solve it faster. After a certain amount of time of constantly playing with a puzzle that is physically strenuous for my hands the times taken for solving it can slow down as my hands fatigue and if the goal is to set a personal best time then this is the point I quit and let the hands recuperate. Sometimes I may unintentionally put the pieces of a puzzle together too tightly particularly if it involves screwing a bolt which makes getting it off again very demanding particularly for the hands so I try to fix pieces of a puzzle together so that they are fixed together and won't come apart by themselves but won't be extremely tough to get apart again when I want to do so.


Occasionally some puzzles that I use require glue to complete them especially certain types of assembly challenges and it has taken plenty of practice over the years for me to be able to use the glue competently without it getting on my hands or creating a mess. The danger I have found of it getting on my hands is that when the glue is a strong type that dries quickly it has stuck my fingers together and when I have moved them apart without knowing they are stuck together the skin rips off. In order to practice using it correctly and safely, I have trialled the glue that usually comes with the puzzle on scrap pieces of paper or cardboard until I have got the hang of it then start on the puzzle itself. Ideally, I practice on material that is the same or similar to what the puzzle is made of because glueing wood together feels like and is a completely different challenge than glueing paper together. The shape and size of the pieces of the puzzle that are being glued together I have found will also have an impact on whether I can avoid getting glue on my hands because if the surface area that I am applying the glue to is small or curved it can be difficult not to apply too much glue or stop it from running off the piece. Many assembly brain teasers like a 3D jigsaw now often don't require glue which is preferable as glue can get very messy and without glue it is faster and less tricky to complete the challenge. Some types of glue are stronger than others because of what needs sticking together so the glue that comes with and is used for a wooden assembly challenge will be stronger than glue that comes with a puzzle that is made from cardboard or paper. If I use a strong glue like superglue I am extra careful because this dries quickly and if I haven't noticed that is on me then my fingers could be glued solid together or the skin of my fingers or hand is stuck to a table cloth or the table itself. To remove super glue I just use soapy water that weakens the glue and then it becomes easier and easier to get it off. When paper needs to be stuck together then the glue doesn't need to be very strong and this type of glue I can usually remove easily and hasn't caused any problems for my hands. I try to avoid puzzles with glue as I don't particularly enjoy using them and it will usually be mentioned on the packaging if it requires glue so are easy enough to avoid. When using a puzzle with glue I will check before starting the puzzle the instructions for any advice on what type of glue to use if they don't provide it which is not very often and look for any advice on how to best apply it and be safe.


In conclusion, all the puzzles I play with I don't find particularly dangerous for my hands and they will have been designed to be as safe as possible for the user but through experience and often common-sense precautions that I have mentioned I rarely have any incidents especially repeat incidents and when they do occur it is usually through me being careless or stupid, encountering something new or a freak or unavoidable occurrence.

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