What is Ulnar Impaction Syndrome?

The bones in your hands, wrists, and forearms are like an intricate puzzle. Your hands contain more bones than any other part of your body, which makes sense considering how much they are capable of. But regardless of how well everything works together in the hands, wrists, and forearms, you can’t always avoid problems.

Wrist pain, for instance, could be caused by any number of things that are out of whack. One of these culprits is a condition called ulnar impaction syndrome, or UIS, which you might not be familiar with.

The impact of this painful wrist condition can be significant and negative if allowed to progress far enough. Could your wrist pain be due to ulnar impaction syndrome? It’s certainly a possibility! And it isn’t always obvious, so take a closer look at UIS, it’s signs, symptoms, and compare them with your own:

Your Bones Need Their Space

Separate bones are supposed to stay separate from each other. When two or more bones can touch or are pressed together, it’s called impaction. When talking specifically about ulnar impaction, the wrist and forearm bones are affected, or impacted.

The impaction causes damage and wears away fibrocartilage, which lines each of your bones and provides a protective cushion. There are two main forearm bones that are placed side-by-side and connect to the wrist; they are called the ulna and the radius.

Without the meniscus-like fibrocartilage, the ulna and radius grind, jar, and pinch against surrounding tissues and the carpal wrist bones. This causes inflammation on the ulnar, or little-finger side, of the hand, and consequently, pain and swelling in the wrist.

UIS is a degenerative wrist condition. Oftentimes, degenerative problems are irreversible as well as progressive. Fortunately, ulnar impaction syndrome is curable and treatable.

What Causes This Impact?

The most common cause for UIS is a problem with the ulna itself. If the ulna is longer than the radius, it causes the ulna to press and pinch the carpal bones and the soft tissue that connects your arm to wrist. A longer-than-average ulna is something people are born with, which predisposes those people to ulnar impaction syndrome.

The other explanation for why someone might develop UIS is participation in sports or other activities that cause the wrist to bend sharply toward the little-finger side of the hand. Some of these activities include the following:

  • Sports that require repetitive wrist and hand motion (rowing, tennis, hockey, golf, pole vault, and baseball)
  • Sports that cause forceful loading at the hand and wrist (gymnastics, shot put, weightlifting, and cycling)
  • Poor hand strength and flexibility
  • Improper sports mechanics

How Will My Wrist Be Impacted?

There are some common tell-tale signs of ulnar impaction syndrome. Watch for any of these symptoms:

  • Pain and tenderness around the ulnar side (little-finger side) of the wrist and hand
  • Ulnar-side wrist pain that is worse with heavy activity, like push-ups
  • Clicking of the wrist
  • Wrist swelling
  • Pain when gripping or grasping

What Can I Do About Ulnar Impaction Syndrome?

Non-surgical treatments are usually very effective for UIS. Rest, ice, and, occasionally, an anti-inflammatory is tried before the more aggressive measures.

Sometimes surgery is the only option. A procedure might be necessary to correct the ulna if it is too long or if the fibrocartilage damage to the area has become too severe. An orthopedic surgeon or hand specialist will be able to determine what treatment will be most effective for you.

Prevention is always better than treating damage that’s already occurred. Here are some general tips for stopping the impact of UIS before it begins:

  • Learn and use proper sports technique, even if you don’t have wrist problems
  • Stretch and warm up the entire body; this includes the hands, wrists, and forearms
  • Use a functional brace to keep the wrist stable
  • Maintain muscle strength and flexibility of the hands, wrists, and forearms

Don’t wait to take action about wrist pain that you think could be ulnar impaction syndrome. If left untreated, this condition can create other problems including arthritis, prolonged disability, and damage to other wrist structures. Get it taken care of before it’s too late. The fellowship-trained hand surgeons at the Hand Surgery Specialists of Texas in Houston have appointments available; make one today with professionals that use their own hands to heal yours.

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