Treating Hand Skin Tears

If you do CrossFit for any length of time, you will likely have the skin tears associated with pull-ups, chest-to-bar, kettelbell swings, muscle ups, etc. So here are some tips to help you to prevent tears (as much as possible) and treat tears once they occur.

If aren’t used to bar work, then your hands are likely to be soft and free of calluses. Your body forming calluses isn’t a bad thing to be dreaded. It’s the body’s natural defense to build up a thickened area to handle repeated use. However, if you don’t keep them smooth and somewhat soft, they will eventually cause you problems.

A. Filing your Calluses
Here are some things you can use to file you calluses

  • A nail file
  • A callus/corn shaver/PedEgg
  • Cuticle scissors
  • A pumice stone
  • A dull razor blade
  • Sandpaper
The goal is have a consistent, smooth palm surface, without noticeable ridges or fluctuating thicknesses of skin. A raised, rough callus will eventually blister and tear away from the surrounding skin, ripping open your hands and making a bloody mess. A general rule of thumb: If you can pinch a raised edge of the callus, it needs to be filed down. Constant vigilance and regular hand care is key to preventing tears.

B. Soften your Calluses

You should try to keep the calluses from becoming too dry. Dry calluses aren’t flexible and will be more likely to tear during high repetition WODs. On the other hand, don’t make them so soft that they aren’t doing their job, which is to withstand the work. If they become dry, start to peel, etc. then go to “Step A” above and file. Once filed, use some kind of ointment-based substance to rub into your calluses. In dermatology, they suggest if it’s a “dry lesion” you should “wet it”.

The scale of substances to use depending on the “dryness” of your calluses:
Ointments <————————————— Cream —————————————->Lotion
Vaseline Shea Butter Cream “Silky” lotion

We define the differences between ointments, creams, and lotions just like the oil you put in your car — by their viscosity, or how thick the product is. Lotions are low viscosity, which means they’re thinner. That’s why they usually come in a bottle that you can squeeze or pump. Lotions are also lighter and a little less oily than creams are. For these reasons, people with normal skin probably only need to use lotion to keep their skin moisturized. Creams are high viscosity, meaning they’re a lot thicker than lotions. Creams usually come in jars; because they’re so thick it would be difficult to squeeze them out of bottles or pumps. They typically work well on dry skin because of their extra protection. Lastly, ointments are the thickest in viscosity and are used with extremely dry skin.


Once the tear occurs,

  • Make sure to trim any of the dead or loose skin
  • Clean the skin with mild soap and water
  • In dermatology, they suggest if it’s a “wet lesion” you should “dry it”. So if it’s bloody or weeping, then make sure to “dry” it and clean it appropriately.
  • If it’s stinging, make sure to use antibiotic ointment and cover with bandage.
  • After a day or so, it should dry out a bit. At that point, you can resume filing, trimming any loose skin. (Step A above)
  • Use an antibiotic ointment and cover with a waterproof or occlusive bandage. This is where philosophy of if it’s “wet” make sure to “dry it” –or- if it’s “dry” make sure to “wet it” will be crucial. In other words, be careful to keep the balance of keeping it soft but not so soft that it becomes white and over-moisturized. On the flip side, it’s ok to not bandage it so that the exposed tender skin will thicken. But if it starts to crack it’s because it needs to be moisturized with ointment and covered with a bandage.

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