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
This fracture is a break near the end of the radius, an arm bone that forms part of the wrist joint.
- Scaphoid fracture
This fracture is a break in the scaphoid, a bone located on the thumb side of the wrist where it meets the radius.
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 that increase your chances of experiencing a colles fracture include:
- advancing age
- decreased muscle mass
- poor nutrition
- participating in contact sports, such as football or soccer
- participating in activities, such as inline skating, skateboarding, or bike riding
Symptoms of a colles fracture include:
- 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, and will examine the injured area. Tests may include:
An x-ray is used to look for a break in the wrist bones.
- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
An MRI scan is rarely used for this type of fracture. It is used to detect a hidden scaphoid fracture.
- computed tomography (CT) scan
A CT scan is rarely used for this type of fracture. It is used to detect unusual small fractures or dislocations of the wrist bones.
Treatment will depend on the severity of the injury. Treatment involves:
- putting the pieces of the bone together, which may require anaesthesia 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 include:
- a cast (may be used with or without surgery)
- a metal plate with screws (requires surgery)
- screws alone (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)
The doctor may prescribe pain medication depending on the level of pain. Your doctor will order more x-rays while the bone heals to ensure that the bones have not shifted position.
When your doctor decides you are ready, start range-of-motion and strengthening exercises. You may be referred to a physical therapist to assist 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 prevent a wrist fracture:
- 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.