Wrist Fracture

(Broken Wrist)

Your "wrist" consists of eight small bones and the two long forearm bones, the radius and ulna.  Force from a fall or a motor vehicle accident can cause one or more of the bones to break. 

The most commonly broken bone out of these ten in the wrist is the radius.  Usually, you will have pain, swelling, and feel very uncomfortable moving the wrist.  You might also notice a deformity of the wrist. 

Your doctor will examine you and obtain X-rays to see if there is a fracture.  Sometimes, a CT scan might be needed to look at all of the pieces and determine how to treat your fracture best.  Bad wrist fractures can be accompanied by tendon, muscle, or nerve damage, also. 

Your age, hand dominance, occupation, hobbies, other medical conditions, as well as the characteristics of the fracture will be considered in deciding what is the best treatment.  Some fractures can be treated with splinting/casting.  You might have to have the fracture reduced, or “set.”  Some fractures need to be stablized by surgery; this can involve placement of pins, screws, plates, or any combination of these.

Sometimes, there is a lot of bone missing and your surgeon might talk to you about bone grafting; bone graft can be taken from another area of your body or from a bone bank, or synthetic substitutes might be used.

Keeping the fingers moving is very important during wrist fracture healing, as all of the tendons that control the fingers pass the area of the fracture, and scarring can lead to stiffness.  You might be sent to hand therapy to learn “tendon gliding” exercises and to learn how to keep the swelling under control.

It can take many months to recover from a wrist fracture, depending on the severity of your injury.  Distal radius “fragility fractures,” common in people with osteoporosis or osteopenia, have been found to predict hip fractures; if your doctor suspects this, you might benefit from a bone density scan and treatment for decreased bone density.

Wrist FractureWrist FractureWrist FractureWrist FractureThis patient whose X-rays are to the left broke her distal radius.  During surgery, her bone was put back in the right  position and fixed with a plate and screws.  The metal does not need to come out unless she has a problem later, which is rare.