Wrist Fractures

What is a wrist fracture?

Even though fractures are common they are often misunderstood. Similar to other materials, like glass, bone can "fail" when loaded beyond its limits. This means a fracture can be anything from a "crack" in the bone, hairline (non-displaced) fracture, to a "shattered" bone with multiple pieces and deformity. Fractures can occur in anyone, especially when exposed to higher-energy injuries, like hard falls. They can also result from relatively "weak" bone failing from a relatively mild fall.

A fracture can occur in any of the more than 10 bones comprising the wrist. The wrist itself (carpus) is arranged in two rows of four bones. These carpal bones are interconnected like puzzle pieces and held together with ligaments. They also articulate with the forearm bones, the radius and ulna, in addition to the metacarpal bones of the hand itself. While many of these bones and ligaments are relatively small, they are critical to normal function, and any damage to them requires prompt evaluation and proper treatment. Improperly treated wrist fractures can result in significant impairment and disability.

What are the symptoms of a wrist fracture?

Symptoms of wrist fracture can include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Deformity
  • Loss of mobility
  • Loss of strength

How is a wrist fracture diagnosed?

Wrist fractures are diagnosed using a combination of diagnostic studies, such as X-rays, and a physician examination. It is necessary to perform an X-ray of the wrist, often from several angles, to assess bones. In more complex injuries or in cases where X-rays do not give adequate information, an MRI or CT scan may be required. It is critical to know the extent of the injury to the wrist so that proper treatment is chosen. It is not unusual to have associated injuries, such as ligament tears, associated with a wrist fracture. Improper treatment can result in permanent damage and loss of wrist function. The experienced physicians at the MOR Hand, Wrist & Elbow Institute excel in proper diagnosis and treatment of fractures and other wrist injuries.

What are the treatments for a wrist fracture?

Most wrist fractures can be treated "closed" with immobilization using splints or casts. This depends on whether the fracture is well-aligned and stable. In some cases the fracture may need to be "set," to get proper alignment. This is called fracture reduction and is often performed with pain-reducing techniques, such as muscle relaxants, sedatives and different types of anesthesia. If the wrist fracture cannot be properly reduced and aligned, or if the fracture is unstable, surgical treatment may be appropriate.

Surgical treatments for a wrist fracture vary and depend on extent and location of injury in addition to other factors. Complex wrist fractures may require surgery where fixation devices, such as plates, screws, pins and possibly bone grafts, are used to hold broken bones together. These procedures may be necessary when there are displaced or unstable (loose) bone fragments, an unstable joint, or multiple fractures.

Whether treated with or without surgery, wrist fractures require a period of "protection" or rest while the bone heals. This can vary depending on severity of wrist fracture and mode of treatment. Medication may be prescribed to relieve pain and inflammation. Therapy may also be necessary to restore lost function and maximize recovery.