Wrist Fracture

Definition

A wrist fracture is a break in one or more of the bones in the wrist. The wrist is made up of the two bones in the forearm called the radius and the ulna. It also includes eight carpal bones. The carpal bones lie between the end of the forearm bones and the bases of the fingers. The most commonly fractured carpal bone is called the scaphoid or navicular bone.

This fact sheet will focus on fractures of the carpal bones of the wrist. Wrist fractures of the radius, often called Colles' fracture , can be found on a separate sheet.

Scaphoid Fracture
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Causes

A wrist fracture is caused by trauma to the bones in the wrist. Trauma may be caused by:

  • Falling on an outstretched arm
  • Direct blow to the wrist
  • Severe twist of the wrist

Risk Factors

Factors that increase your chance of developing a wrist fracture include:

  • Participating in contact sports, such as football or soccer
  • Participating in activities such as in-line skating , skateboarding, or bike riding
  • Participating in any activity which could cause you to fall on your outstretched hand
  • Violence or high-velocity trauma, such as an automobile accident

Symptoms

If you have any of these symptoms, do not assume they are due to a wrist fracture. Symptoms of a wrist fracture include.

  • Pain
  • Swelling and tenderness around the wrist
  • Bruising around the wrist
  • Limited range of wrist or thumb motion
  • Visible deformity in the wrist

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, physical activity, and how the injury occurred. The injured area will be examined.

Images may need to be taken of your wrist. This can be done with:

Treatment

Treatment will depend on the severity of the injury. It may involve:

  • Putting the pieces of the bone back together. This may require anesthesia and/or surgery.
  • Keeping the pieces of the bone together while the bone heals.

Devices that may be used to hold the bone in place while it heals include:

  • A cast —may be used with or without surgery
  • A metal plate with screws, which requires surgery
  • Screws alone, which requires surgery
  • Metal pins that cross the bone with a metal splint on the outside of the wrist that holds the pins and the fractured bone in place—requires surgery

Your doctor may give you pain medicine depending on your level of pain. Your doctor will order more x-rays while the bone heals. The x-rays will help to make sure that the bones have not shifted.

Exercises

When your doctor decides you are ready, start range-of-motion and strength exercises. A physical therapist may help you with these exercises. Do not return to sports until your wrist is fully healed.

Healing Time

A fracture of a carpal bone may take 10-16 weeks to heal. For the best recovery, follow your doctor's directions .

Prevention

To help reduce your chance of getting a wrist fracture, take the following steps:

  • Do not put yourself at risk for trauma to the wrist bones.
  • Eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D .
  • Build strong muscles to prevent falls and stay flexible.
  • Wear proper padding and safety equipment when participating in sports or activities.

Revision Information

  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

    http://orthoinfo.aaos.org

  • The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine

    http://www.sportsmed.org

  • Canadian Orthopaedic Association

    http://www.coa-aco.org

  • Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation

    http://www.canorth.org

  • Distal radius fracture. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00412 . Updated August 2007. Accessed March 12, 2013.

  • Distal radius fracture. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com . Updated December 17, 2012. Accessed March 12, 2013.

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