Broken Wrist (Wrist Fracture)
Your wrist is a complex joint made up of the ends of your arm bones and the eight small bones of your wrist. The two bones in your forearm are the radius and the ulna. There are eight small wrist bones, or carpal bones, between the ends of your radius and ulna and the beginning of your hand bones. The bones in your hand are called your metacarpal bones. All of these bones, large and small, work together to let you make complex movements with your hands and fingers.
Injuries and fractures can occur anywhere in your wrist joint. If you put too much force on any of your wrist bones, it may fracture. People often get a broken wrist in a fall or motor vehicle accident. Decreased bone density, which is called osteoporosis, can increase your risk for a broken wrist.
The most common type of break happens at the end of the radius, the larger bone of your forearm. This is called a distal radius fracture.
A stable wrist fracture is when the large pieces of bone stay in place during the break. An unstable fracture is when the break creates many small pieces of bone, or when pieces of bone have moved out of place. A closed fracture means the skin is not pierced by the break. An open wrist fracture is when a piece of the bone comes through the skin.
To find out if you have a wrist fracture, your health care provider will do a physical exam and imaging tests. Some of the symptoms your doctor might look for include:
- Swelling, and
- An inability or less ability to move your wrist
With an open fracture, a piece of bone may be seen breaking through the skin.
The most common imaging test is an X-ray of the wrist. Sometimes, other kinds of imaging might be needed, including a computed tomography scan, or C-T scan. A C-T scan uses a series of X-rays to create pictures of your wrist.
Treatment for your broken wrist will depend on the exact location of the break. It also depends on how your wrist bones line up after the fracture, and whether they are broken into small or large pieces.
Often, wrist fractures are treated by putting a cast or splint on the joint. You will likely have to wear the cast or splint for several weeks.
In more complex cases, you may need surgery to repair the fracture. During surgery for a wrist fracture, your wrist may need to be stabilized with pins, screws, or plates. If the bone was badly damaged, a bone graft may be used to repair the area.
You will likely need medications to control your pain after a procedure to treat your broken wrist. Your healthcare provider may also recommend physical therapy to help keep your shoulders and fingers strong and flexible. When your wrist begins to heal, physical therapy can help you recover the use of your wrist joint. Recovery time depends on the severity of your fracture, the exact type of treatment, and how well you follow your exercise instructions.
Things to Remember
Falls and accidents are common causes of wrist fractures.
- A wrist fracture is a break at the end of one of the bones in your forearm, or in one of your small wrist bones.
- A wrist fracture is often diagnosed with an X-ray.
A wrist fracture is treated with a splint or cast. Sometimes surgery is needed.
What We Have Learned
Loss of bone density can make a person more at risk of a wrist fracture. True or false?
The answer is true. Known as osteoporosis, loss of bone density can make a wrist fracture more likely.
A wrist fracture is usually diagnosed with an X-ray of your wrist joint. True or false?
The answer is true.
Surgery is always needed to treat a wrist fracture. True or false?
The answer is false. Surgery is only needed in some cases if the wrist needs to be stabilized, or needs a bone graft.