A broken wrist, also referred to as a distal radius fracture, usually occurs one inch from the end of the radius bone and is the most common broken bone in the body.
The forearm has two bones, the radius and the ulna. The radius is the larger of the two bones in the forearm (lower arm). The end of the bone toward the wrist is called the distal end. A fracture of the distal radius occurs when the area of the radius near the wrist breaks.
A broken wrist can occur many different ways; however, a fall onto an outstretched arm is the most common; such as a car accident or fall off a bike. Osteoporosis, softening of the bone with age, can also make a relatively minor fall result in a distal radius fracture especially in those over 60 years old.
Broken wrist symptoms
- Immediate pain
- In some cases the wrist hangs in an odd or bent way
- A deformed appearance
To determine whether you have broken your wrist, your physician will ask you for a complete medical history and conduct a physical examination. An X-ray can confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment options depend on the nature of the fracture, the patient’s age and the patient’s activity level.
If the broken bone is in a good position or can be put back into good alignment, a cast can be used to keep the wrist steady until it heals. The cast may need to extend either up to the elbow or in some cases, above the elbow. Usually, the cast is required for six weeks.
If the broken bone is out of place and the alignment cannot be corrected, surgery may be required. A variety of methods can be used to hold the fracture well aligned after surgery and include plate and screws, small thin pins that are in the bone but also stick out of the skin or an external fixator (again, pins that are in bone and also stick out of the skin but with this method, they are connected by bars that hold the alignment). All of these methods work well and it will be your orthopedic surgeon that will make the determination as to which method is best for you and your particular fracture pattern.
Broken wrist recovery depends on the severity of the injury. Most fractures hurt moderately for a few days to a couple weeks. Most are the bone healing is complete by 6 to 12 weeks. Your function, although mostly recovered by four months, will continue to improve for up to a year.
Learn more about hand, wrist and elbow treatment at OrthoIndy.