I applied a tiling texture of some shapes and symbols on it to a model of an arm and hand and arm (a hypernurbs object). The uv mapping works fine on the arm part (which is sort of like a cylinder, but goes nuts when it hits the hand and thumb.
Is it better if I convert it to polygons first rather than a hypernurbs object?
Actually I am thinking about breaking it up since each part such as the thumb and fingers and even the palm are cylindrical in themselves
Hypernurbs probably doesn't matter in this case. What you'll have to do is either adjust one of the standard UV mapping projections (cubic, spherical, etc.) with the texture axis tool, or (best but most complicated) unwrap the UVs using BodyPaint's UV tools.