The most common type of wrist fracture occurs when people try to catch themselves during a fall and land hard on an outstretched hand.
A broken wrist is a break or crack in one or more of the bones of your wrist. The most common of these injuries occurs in the wrist when people try to catch themselves during a fall and land hard on an outstretched hand.
You may be at higher risk of a broken wrist if you participate in sports like in-line skating or snowboarding, or if you have a condition in which bones become thinner and more fragile (osteoporosis).
It's important to treat a broken wrist as soon as possible. Otherwise, the bones might not heal in proper alignment, which might affect your ability to do everyday activities, such as writing or buttoning a shirt. Early treatment will also help minimize pain and stiffness.
Your wrist is made up of eight small bones (carpal bones) plus two long bones in your forearm — the radius and the ulna.
A broken wrist might cause these signs and symptoms:
If you think you might have a broken wrist, see a doctor immediately, especially if you have numbness, swelling or trouble moving your fingers. A delay in diagnosis and treatment can lead to poor healing, decreased range of motion and decreased grip strength.
A broken wrist can be caused by:
Participating in certain sports activities and having the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis can increase your chances of breaking a wrist.
Contact sports and activities that increase your risk of falling can increase your risk of breaking bones in your wrist. Examples include:
Complications of a broken wrist are rare, but they might include:
It's impossible to prevent the unforeseen events that often cause a broken wrist. But these tips might offer some protection.
To build strong bones:
Most broken wrists occur when people fall forward onto an outstretched hand. To prevent this common injury:
Wear wrist guards for high-risk activities, such as:
The diagnosis of a broken wrist generally includes a physical exam of the affected hand and X-rays.
Sometimes, other imaging tests can give your doctor more detail. They are:
If the broken ends of the bone aren't aligned properly, there can be gaps between the pieces of bone or fragments might overlap. Your doctor will need to manipulate the pieces back into position, a procedure known as a reduction. Depending on the amount of pain and swelling you have, you might need a local or general anesthetic before this procedure.
Whatever your treatment, it's important to move your fingers regularly while the fracture is healing to keep them from stiffening. Ask your doctor about the best ways to move them. If you smoke, quit. Smoking can delay or prevent bone healing.
Restricting the movement of a broken bone in your wrist is critical to proper healing. To do this, you'll likely need a splint or a cast. You'll be advised to keep your hand above heart level as much as possible to reduce swelling and pain.
To reduce pain, your doctor might recommend an over-the-counter pain reliever. If your pain is severe, you might need an opioid medication, such as codeine.
NSAIDs can help with pain but might also hamper bone healing, especially if used long-term. Ask your doctor if you can take them for pain relief.
If you have an open fracture, in which you have a wound or break in the skin near the wound site, you'll likely be given an antibiotic to prevent infection that could reach the bone.
After your cast or splint is removed, you'll likely need rehabilitation exercises or physical therapy to reduce stiffness and restore movement in your wrist. Rehabilitation can help, but it can take several months or longer for complete healing.
You might need surgery to implant pins, plates, rods or screws to hold your bones in place while they heal. A bone graft might be used to help healing. These options might be necessary if you have:
Even after reduction and immobilization with a cast or splint, your bones can shift. So your doctor likely will monitor your progress with X-rays. If your bones move, you might then need surgery.
In some cases, the surgeon will immobilize your fracture by using an external fixation device. This consists of a metal frame with two or more pins that go through your skin and into the bone on both sides of the fracture.
With external fixation, a metal frame outside your body immobilizes the fracture with two or more pins that pass through your skin and into the bone on either side of the fracture.
You might first seek treatment for a broken wrist in an emergency room or urgent care clinic. If the pieces of broken bone aren't lined up properly to allow healing with immobilization, you might be referred to a doctor specializing in orthopedic surgery.
You may want to write a list that includes:
For a broken wrist, questions to ask your doctor include:
Your doctor might ask: