What is a Wrist Fracture?

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

The wrist is made up of an exceedingly complex network of interconnected bones and ligaments, allowing us a near endless range of motions in our hands and forearms. When this area becomes damaged, it's no wonder that diagnoses can sometimes be tricky, as there are a multitude of different ways the wrist can be injured. At WristSupports.co.uk, we're committed to educating our customers about their wrists, and helping them to choose the best supports and braces to help them heal. In this article, we'll tackle the Wrist Fracture.

What is a Wrist Fracture?

A Wrist Fracture is simply a medical term for a broken wrist, but, when it comes to specific classification of the injury, things become less simple. This is because the wrist is made up of eight small bones, which connect to the two bones of the forearm: the ulna (little-finger side) and radius (thumb side). A Wrist Fracture occurs when any of these ten bones becomes broken, of which the most common to break is to the radius.

Symptoms, causes and treatments of Wrist Fractures depend on which bone is broken, and the severity of the break. In general, Wrist Fractures are split into five categories:

  • Non-Displaced Fractures: These can be stable fractures, and are the least severe. In these fractures, the bones do not move out of place.
  • Displaced Fractures: These can also be stable enough to be treated by a simple cast or splint, but involve the bone moving slightly out of place. In these instances, the bone needs to be put back into place, in a process called "reduction", or "setting".
  • Unstable Fractures: This type of fracture is more severe. In these cases, even if the bones are set back into place under a cast, the bone pieces are prone to shifting back out of position. This can lead to the area healing in an incorrect position, which can make the wrist appear crooked after recovery.
  • Comminuted Fractures: ​This is a more severe type of fracture, in which the bone shatters into many pieces. These fractures often require surgery to ensure the bones are correctly aligned.
  • Open Fractures: This fracture can appear especially gruesome, as it involves the bone, or a fragment of bone, breaking through the skin. This can lead to an increase of complications, and a risk of infection to the bone itself.

Types of Wrist Fracture

While the severity of a Wrist Fracture is a primary aspect of diagnosis, just as important is the area affected. Since there are eight carpal bones in the wrist, and two forearm bones, there are quite a few types of Wrist Fracture that can occur. Some of the most common include:

  • Distal Radius Fracture: ​This most common type of Wrist Fracture occurs when the distal end of the radius becomes broken.
  • Colles' Fracture: ​This is a type of distal radius fracture in which the broken radius move upward to the top of the wrist. This usually occurs when the wrist is impacted while extended.
  • Smith's Fracture: The Smith's Fracture is another type of distal radius fracture, in which the radius breaks while in a flexed position.
  • Greenstick Fracture: ​This is a common type of Wrist Fracture among children. Since their bones are softer than an adult's and yet to develop density, they can bend without breaking. In this fracture, one side of the bone breaks, while the other is simply bent.
  • Scaphoid Fracture: ​A common type of fracture to the scaphoid, one of the eight carpal bones of the wrist.
  • Distal Ulna Fracture: This is a type of fracture involving breaks in both the ulna and radius. Both bones will break at the point nearest to your hand, as they connect to the eight carpal bones.

Network of bones making up the wrist

The complex bones that make up the wrist

How to Tell a Break from a Sprain?

One of the most common misdiagnoses of a Wrist Fracture is as a wrist sprain, and vice versa. This is because the two share a large number of symptoms in common, but require different treatments. In most cases, proper diagnosis will require an x-ray by your physician, but it's helpful to know the signs of each for proper first aid after injury. We've put together a few of the most reliable ways to tell before you reach the doctor's office:

Wrist Fractures

Wrist Sprains

  • Usually caused by a sudden impact
  • Causes a popping or cracking noise
  • Reduction of range of motion in fingers
  • Numbness to the general area
  • Limited movement of the wrist joint
  • Constant dull ache that doesn't ease up
  • Wrist can move, but causes discomfort
  • Redness or warmth at the wrist joint
  • Swelling or bruising to the area
  • Intermittent pain associated with movement (not a constant dull ache)

Treatment of a Wrist Fracture

As has been mentioned above, treatment of your Wrist Fracture will depend both on the severity of the break, and the bones of the wrist involved. They can also depend on the types of activities you need to carry out, and your general health at the time. Most commonly, treatment depends on whether the fracture is stable, where the bones can reliably be set back in position, or unstable, where the bones are prone to shifting.

Unstable Fractures

This type of Wrist Fracture is usually more complex, and may require surgery. If a splint or cast is placed without surgery, the bones can often shift out of position, leading to risks of further injury, or the bone healing crookedly.

Stable Fractures

These Wrist Fractures can usually be treated more easily. In some cases, minor repositioning must be done, known as a "closed reduction", in which the bone can be positioned without surgery. After that, an immobilising splint should be used in order to allow the area to rest and reduce the risk of reaggravation of the injury. This splinting is usually combined with the use of anti-inflammatory medication, along with physical therapy to rehabilitate the muscles and ligaments of the wrist.

Which Wrist Support Should I Choose?

Once your Wrist Fracture has been reset in the proper position by your physician, the next step is immobilisation. If you and your doctor decide a splint is sufficient instead of a cast, a sturdy splint that protects the area while providing immobilisation in key. Preventing movement in the area will protect your bones and ligaments from further damage, allowing the area to heal. 

Here at Wrist Supports, we stock a full range of splints and supports for most types of Wrist Fractures, with varying levels of support and protection. To take a look at our entire range of wrist supports, splints and braces for Wrist Fractures, click the yellow button below.

 

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