The majority of wrist fractures occur outdoors in the winter months when snow and ice make walking as treacherous as driving. It’s instinctive to outstretch an arm when you slip to break the fall leaving the forearm and small bones of the hand to absorb the weight and force.
It’s important to seek proper medical attention if you sustain a wrist injury. “The biggest challenge in treating wrist fractures is keeping the bones in alignment during healing.” says orthopaedic surgeon Jay Talsania, M.D. of OAA Specialists in Allentown. “If bones shift, the wrist can become misshapen and not function well. Long-term, that can cause problems like arthritis and loss of motion.”
Depending upon the severity of the fracture, specialists like Talsania and his partners at OAA, may use splints, casts or external or internal fixators to secure any instability and promote faster healing.
The wrist is comprised of ten bones; two from the forearm (radius and ulna) and 8 small bones from the hand (carpals). A wrist fracture can involve a break in one or more of these bones.
A fall can also produce a wrist sprain, which can be just as difficult to treat. Sprains occur from the stretching and straining the ligaments or perhaps even tearing. “If a wrist sprain or ligament tear is not treated properly, it can impede long term function. The ligaments are essential to grip,” says Talsania.
To the untrained eye, the symptoms of a sprain or fracture can present similarly. Both cause pain and swelling in the joint as well as pain from motion from lifting or grasping objects. There are also distinctive differences that are best left to a physician to distinguish and treat.
Hand therapy also plays a significant role in regaining mobility and strength after wrist injury.
Wrist fractures are most common in young children, young males in extreme sports such as snowboarding, and most prevalent in women over 50.
Many falls can be prevented. Fall proof your house if you have young children or care for an older adult. If you take medication that affects the inner ear and balance, stand or rise slowly. Use wrist guards for snowboarding, ice or roller skating, and skateboarding.
For older women, wrist fractures may be a sign of brittle bones from osteoporosis.
For more information about injuries of the hand and wrist, visit AAOS – Hand and Wrist.