Did you know that in the United States, 6 million people break a bone each year?
If you were to break a bone, the chances are one in ten that it’s in your wrist. The truth is that a broken wrist is a frequent injury, but it does not imply that it is easily diagnosed or treated.
If you have fractured wrist symptoms, it’s essential to treat them as quickly as possible. Otherwise, bones may not heal in a correct position, which may affect your ability to do day-to-day work, such as writing or buttoning a jacket. Early treatment will also help to reduce pain and stiffness.
There are many broken bones in the wrist, but they’re not all treated the same way.
You may be at greater risk of breaking your wrist if you play sports such as skateboarding or snowboarding. It can also happen, mostly in older people, if they suffer from a condition in which bones become thinner and more brittle (osteoporosis).
Do you need to identify fractured wrist symptoms? Read on to learn about treatments.
What Is a Wrist Fracture?
The wrist consists of eight small bones connected to the two forearm bones called the ulna and radius. Although a broken wrist can occur in any of these eight wrist bones and the two forearm bones, the radius is the most frequent bone broken. That break is a distal radius fracture.
Based on the angle of the fracture, distal radius breaks divide into two types.
A Colles fracture arises from a straight impact on the palm. For example, if you land on the palms during a fall.
Sometimes the side view of a wrist following a Colle’s break looks like the shape of an upsidedown fork. The wrist is like the neck of the fork and has a distinct “bulge.” That is because the broken end of the distal radius bone moves up to the back of your hand.
A Smith fracture is the less frequent of the two.
It happens due to an impact on the back of the wrist, such as falling on a bent wrist. In this type of fracture, the end of the distal radius usually descends to the palm side. That typically causes the longer part of the radius to drop into the wrist.
This kind of fracture is predominant in gymnasts and ice skaters; in fact, it’s more common for all people participating in high-impact sports.
How Does It Happen?
Almost everyone may fall or trip and end up with a fractured wrist. However, there are two categories of falls.
Older Men and Women
The first group is older men and women who have osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition that weakens bones so that they fracture easily.
Most often, the bones that break are the hip, spinal bones, and wrist bones. Because of this bone weakness, a fall to break the wrist doesn’t take much.
Younger Active People
Patients in the second category tend to be younger and more active, with fractured wrists resulting from higher energy sports, such as a skiing accident or getting hit while playing contact sports.
Because of the high-impact movement of younger people, the breaks those young people get tend to be in the wrist joint and are often more severe.
Fractured Wrist Symptoms
To detect a wrist fracture, check to see if you have the following symptoms:
- Deformity of the wrist
- Bone matter breaking through the skin
These are the most obvious signs of bone breakage. When these happen, you must seek medical care right away!
However, other wrist injury symptoms are common for fractures. These can include:
- Swelling of the wrist
- Bruising in the wrist area
- Experiencing pain when moving the wrist or hand around
- You cannot hold or pick up items without experiencing pain
The above are some of the symptoms you may experience. The best advice if you suspect a broken wrist is to visit your doctor. What do you have to lose?
Diagnosing a Fractured Wrist
Your hand surgeon will perform a physical exam and get X-rays to see if a broken bone is present.
Scans like a CT scan or MRI scan might sometimes be necessary to get details on the fracture and other lesions. When the wrist fractures, even ligaments and tendons, as well as muscles and nerves, will get hurt. Doctors will also treat these injuries.
Other Imaging Examinations
Sometimes, a doctor will need more detail to provide the right treatment. The doctor may ask for further imaging tests. These include the following.
CT Scans: CT scans will reveal the fractures of the wrist that the X-rays overlook. CT scans will pick up any injuries to soft tissues and blood vessels. These machines take X-rays from several viewpoints and incorporate them to show cross-sections of the body’s internal structures.
MRI: MRI uses radio waves and a high-strength magnet to give detailed images of bone and soft tissues. MRIs are much more responsive than X-rays and can detect tiny and hairline fractures as well as ligament injuries.
Whichever one of the above methods the doctor uses, you can be sure that they will detect any fracture. The doctor can then give you the correct treatment to heal your fractured wrist.
How Do You Treat a Wrist Fracture?
Many factors influence the decisions on how to treat a distal radius fracture, these being:
- Whether the broken bones have moved
- Whether there are multiple fractures
- If there is a joint involved
- If you also fracture the ulna
- If you injure the Median nerve
- Whether it is your dominant hand
- The type of employment you have
- Your level of activity
Some wrist fractures are called stable. That is a non-displaced break, which is when the bones stay in place. Displaced breaks are when you need to place the bones back where they belong so that they can ‘glue’ back together.
Other fractures are ‘unstable.’ Unstable fractures are those that, even when put back into position with a plaster cast, shift before healing. That unstable break will make your wrist crooked.
Such fractures are more extreme than others. Fractures that break apart the smooth surface of the joint or fractures that smash into several parts can make the bone unstable.
These extreme forms of fractures frequently require surgery to repair and preserve their alignment. An open fracture happens when a bone fragment punctures through the skin. That can lead to an increased risk of infection.
If the wrist fracture seems to be in a good position, doctors will use a splint or plaster cast. Often this will be the only treatment needed until the bone knits together and heals.
A plaster cast will typically stay on for up to six weeks. After that, doctors will give you a removable wrist splint for support and comfort. Once the cast comes off, physical therapy can begin so that you can regain use and strengthen your wrists.
Every three to six weeks, doctors may request an X-ray. This is to check that the bone is healing and ‘knitting’ together and is not unstable.
It would be best if you corrected a displaced fracture first. Once the bones have been aligned, then doctors will use a plaster splint or cast. The alignment is normally performed under local anesthesia.
Your orthopedic surgeon will examine the fracture and determine if you will require surgery or whether the fracture can be handled with casting for six weeks.
Surgery for Wrist Fractures
Surgery is typically used for fractures that are deemed unstable or cannot be healed with a casting. Surgery is done through an opening over the pulse area on your wrist. This grants you full access to the breakage.
The pieces are assembled and kept in place with plates and screws.
If there are several bone fragments, it might not be possible to repair them with plates and screws. Doctors can use an external fixator with or without extra wires to stabilize the fracture in such situations. For an external fixator, most of the equipment stays outside the body.
Following surgery, doctors will apply a splint for two weeks before the first follow-up appointment. The splint will be substituted for a removable wrist splint worn for four weeks.
You can stop wearing the removable splint six weeks after surgery. It would be best if you continued the exercises given by your surgeon and therapist. Early movement is vital to recovering after surgery.
Prescription and Medications
Your doctor may prescribe an over-the-counter pain medication to alleviate your pain. You will require prescription drugs, such as codeine, if the pain is serious.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can help with pain, but they will also hinder bone healing. Before you take them, ask your doctor if it is advisable to do so for pain relief.
When you have an open break, you will possibly be given an antibiotic to avoid infections that may enter the bones.
Once you are healed and your splint or cast is removed, you will need rehabilitation exercises or physical therapy. This is to reduce stiffness and develop movement in your wrist.
Rehabilitation will help. Healing can take some time, from several months or longer.
Don’t Overlook Wrist Injuries
Wrist breaks, like virtually all broken bones, are better if treated early. This may be as simple as putting a brace on, which will ‘freeze’ and protect the bone from pain and avoid displacement.
When treated late, some fractures, like the scaphoid fracture, have less of a chance of healing. Owing to the distinctive blood flow, scaphoid fractures have a greater chance of not healing or non-binding than most wrist bones. When this bone cannot heal properly, it will, over time, develop wrist arthritis.
Preventing a Wrist Fracture
Of course, the best advice is not to fall! That may seem perfectly logical, but many times you can prevent accidents from happening by being alert. Here are some examples of common things to avoid:
- Loose rugs on the floor
- Items or toys scattered on the floor
- Using a ladder in an unsafe way
- Slippery floors
- Be careful with pets around your feet
Apart from that, you can take a few measures to keep a wrist injury from happening.
- Follow a diet containing calcium and vitamin D to build bone strength
- Do weight-training exercises
- Wear the correct protective gear when doing sports activities, especially rollerblading and skateboarding
- Be mindful when walking on slippery or uneven surfaces
Basically, to prevent any falls, you must be constantly aware of your surroundings.
Complications of Wrist Fractures
It is rare for complications to occur from a broken wrist. However, they do still occur, and they might include the following.
Stiffness, Aches, or Disability
Stiffness, tingling, or aching in the affected region usually disappears after the cast is discarded or after surgery. However, some people can suffer from permanent stiffness and pain.
Be proactive about your recovery, and speak to your doctor about exercises that can support it. Alternatively, ask your doctor to refer you to a physical therapy professional.
Osteoarthritis in the Joints
Fractures that spread to the joint can cause arthritis later on. When your wrist continues to be in pain or swells long after a break, visit your doctor for an examination; it could be osteoarthritis in the joints.
Nerve or Blood Circulation Damage
Wrist trauma can inflict additional damage to nerves and blood vessels situated nearby. If you have numbness or circulation issues, you should seek medical treatment.
It’s All in the Wrist
It’s a normal impulse to reach out your hand to stop yourself from falling. This instinct is the cause of virtually all wrist fractures.
Doctors have even given it the acronym ‘FOOSH.’ FOOSH is ‘fall on an outstretched hand.’
The good news is that if you have fractured wrist symptoms and get treated, most people recuperate one hundred percent! If you think about it, too many everyday tasks need the use of your hands. Because of this, you can request a program to match your recovery rate and your particular needs.
We are hand and wrist professionals in Texas, and we are highly skilled in the diagnosis and treatment of hand, wrist, finger, elbow, and thumb disorders. Contact us today to schedule an appointment at an office near you.