Wrist Fracture
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Wrist Fracture

(Broken Wrist; Scaphoid Fracture; Colles' Fracture; Fracture, Wrist; Transverse Wrist Fracture; Dinner-Fork Deformity of the Wrist)

En Español (Spanish Version)

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 (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.

Colles' Fracture

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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.

Scaphoid Fracture

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© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

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

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
    • Postmenopause
    • Decreased muscle mass
    • Osteoporosis
    • Poor nutrition
  • For Scaphoid Fracture:
    • 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
  • For either:
    • Violence or high-velocity trauma such as an automobile accident

Symptoms

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:

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

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms, physical activity, and how the injury occurred. She will examine the injured area.

Tests may include:

  • X-rays—to look for a break in the wrist bones
  • MRI scan (rarely)—a test that uses a strong magnetic field and radio wave to detect a hidden scaphoid fracture
  • CT scan (rarely)—a type of x-ray that uses a computer to detect small fractures or dislocations of the wrist bones

Treatment

Treatment will depend on how severe the injury.

Treatment:

  • 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.

Exercises

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.

Healing Time

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.

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 agile.
  • Wear proper padding and safety equipment when participating in sports or activities.

RESOURCES:

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
http://www.aaos.org/

The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
http://www.sportsmed.org/

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Orthopaedic Association
http://www.coa-aco.org/

Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
http://www.canorth.org/

References:

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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