On average, the physicians at Michigan Surgery Specialists treat over 1,000 wrist fractures every year! Wrist fractures are a little more complex than they sound so keep reading to explore how this injury occurs, why it’s so common and how we treat it.
Wrist Fracture Types
Wrist Fracture, aka broken wrist, is one of the more common hand injuries experienced in the pediatric and adult population. The wrist is made up of several small bones at the base of the hand that connect to the 2 large forearm bones. Though there are multiple types of wrist fractures, the 2 most common wrist fracture diagnoses are distal radius fractures and scaphoid fractures.
Distal radius fractures are breaks that occur at the wrist along the radius. This bone is one of the long forearm bones; the one along the inside of the arm that attaches to the wrist at the base of the thumb. Scaphoid fractures are breaks that occur on the scaphoid bone, which is one of those little bones that connects the radius (forearm) to the hand.
Both fracture types can be achieved by similar events. Often, wrist breaks occur from some type of accidental fall, landing on a planted hand, or due to some other type of traumatic accident, such as a car crash. Underlying conditions, like osteoporosis in the elderly may make you more prone to a wrist fracture during an incident. Depending on which bone you injure, these breaks can range from small cracks, to open fractures where the bone breaks through the skin. The type of fracture also dictates the treatment options that are available.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Basic symptoms of a distal radius or scaphoid fracture include pain, swelling and bruising at the wrist. Depending on the severity of the break, you may also experience loss of motion in the wrist, pain when moving the thumb, an odd dip in the wrist or numbness in the fingers caused by nerve trauma. Possible nerve damage and open fractures should be addressed immediately at the emergency room to avoid further damage.
If your symptoms are more mild and emergency care is not necessary, a specialist can easily diagnosis either fracture with a physical examination and an x-ray. Imaging will be used to determine how bad the break is, if any of the bones have been displaced (shifted) or if any fragments of bone have broken off.
Treatment options for a broken wrist depend on a few factors, including: How bad is the break? Which bone is broken and were along the bone? If the bone is not displaced and the break is minor, surgery can be avoided by applying a cast for a few weeks until the bone is healed. Often this cast or splint is applied to the wrist, thumb and forearm to restrict movement.
Surgical treatment may be necessary for displacements, open fractures and/or if fragments of bone have been broken off. These surgical procedures can include correcting the bone positioning, ensuring the bones are properly aligned, and then securing them with plates, screws and/or wires. Surgery may also address damage done to nerves or surrounding tissue. The arm is then casted until fully healed.
Your hand specialist may also recommend occupational therapy to aid in recovery after the break, whether surgery was necessary or not.
Have you experienced a wrist injury recently? Contact your nearest MSS location and schedule a consultation with one of our hand surgeons.