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What Are Wrist Fractures?

The area where the lower arm and hand connect is called the wrist. A fracture is a break in bones in this area. Healing time ranges from 6 weeks for a simple fracture to 24 weeks for a more severe break. It may take 6 to 12 months to get back normal flexibility and strength in the wrist.

What Causes Wrist Fractures?

Falls usually cause these fractures. People almost always put out their hand to break a fall. The impact when hitting the ground with the body’s weight on the extended hand can cause breaks.

Several things make wrist fractures more likely. Elderly people may have fragile bones (osteoporosis) that are more likely to break in a fall, even a low-impact fall. Children can break their wrists because they often play sports and their bones are soft. Playing contact sports such as football and soccer and other activities such as skating, skateboarding, and biking can lead to fractures. Breaks can also result from trauma in motor vehicle accidents.

What Are the Symptoms of Wrist Fractures?

Fractured wrists are painful, bruised, and sore. The wrist often swells and may be bent at a strange angle. People may have trouble holding things and may have numbness in the wrist and hand.

How Are Wrist Fractures Diagnosed?

The health care provider will ask about any trauma and will examine the wrist, and maybe other parts of the body if a car accident or severe fall occurred. The health care provider will order x-rays to check the bones for breaks. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be done if the initial x-rays are negative and pain persists or increases after several days of treatment.

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How Are Wrist Fractures Treated?

A splint or cast is used for treatment. The first splint or cast may cover the elbow and fingers. As the bone heals, another one that allows more movement is put on. Weekly x-rays for the first 2 or 3 weeks may be taken to see how the bone heals. A cast is usually worn for 6 to 8 weeks.

For a severe break, surgery may be needed. The surgeon will put pins, screws, and a metal plate into each end of the broken bone to hold pieces together. Metal frames that go outside the body instead of inside are sometimes used.

The doctor may prescribe pain medicine for a few days to control symptoms.

Recovery will depend on how bad the fracture was and which bone or bones were broken. For simple breaks, people recover fully. A serious break may mean that full strength and flexibility in the wrist won’t return. Physical therapy can help regain movement in the wrist.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Wrist Fractures:
  • DO wear a wrist support device while playing sports.
  • DO call your health care provider if you notice loss of feeling or a color change in your hand.
  • DO call your health care provider if you develop a fever or pain lasts or gets worse.
  • DON’T skip follow-up visits with your health care provider. They are important so the health care provider can watch your progress.
FOR MORE INFORMATION

Contact the following sources:

  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
    Tel: (847) 823-7186
    Website: http://www.aaos.org

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

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