(Broken Wrist; Scaphoid Fracture; Colles' Fracture; Fracture, Wrist; Transverse Wrist Fracture; Dinner-Fork Deformity of the Wrist)En Español (Spanish Version)
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 (radius and ulna) and eight carpal bones. The carpal bones connect the end of the forearm bones with the bases of the fingers.
The two most common wrist fractures are:
Colles' fracture—a break near the end of the radius
- This fracture is common in older people. It is much less common in children and teens.
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Scaphoid fracture—a break in the scaphoid (a bone on the thumb side of the wrist where it meets the radius)
- This fracture is most common in young, active people. The scaphoid bone is also sometimes called the navicular.
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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
These factors increase your chance of developing a wrist fracture. Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors:
For Colles' Fracture:
- Advancing age
- Decreased muscle mass
- Poor nutrition
- For Scaphoid Fracture:
- Violence or high-velocity trauma such as an automobile accident
If you have any of these symptoms do not assume it is due to a wrist fracture. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. Tell your doctor if you have any of these:
- Swelling and tenderness around the wrist
- Bruising around the wrist
- Limited range of wrist or thumb motion
- Visible deformity in the wrist
The doctor will ask about your symptoms, physical activity, and how the injury occurred. She will examine the injured area.
Tests may include:
Treatment will depend on how severe the injury.
- Putting the pieces of the bone together, which may require anesthesia and/or surgery
- Keeping the pieces together while the bone heals itself
Devices that may be used to hold the bone in place while it heals:
- A cast (may be used with or without surgery)
- A metal plate with screws (surgery)
- Screws alone (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 (surgery)
The doctor may give you pain medication depending upon the level of pain. Your doctor will order more x-rays while the bone heals to make sure that the bones have not shifted.
When your doctor decides you are ready, start range-of-motion and strengthening exercises. A physical therapist may help you with these exercises. Do not return to sports until your wrist is fully healed.
It takes 6-10 weeks for a fracture of the radius at the wrist to heal. A fracture of the scaphoid bone may take 10-16 weeks to heal.
To help reduce your chance of getting a wrist fracture, take the following steps:
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
Colles’ wrist fracture. Medline Plus website. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000002.htm. Accessed October 13, 2005.
Distal radius fracture. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00412. Updated August 2007. Accessed July 11, 2008.
Last reviewed January 2008 by John C. Keel, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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