Dr. Mark E. Pruzansky
Dr. Jason S. Pruzansky
975 Park Avenue New York, NY 10028

Wrist Fracture Treatments

Introduction to Wrist Fractures: Causes and Symptoms

Wrist fractures are common injuries that can significantly impact one’s daily life. These fractures typically occur as a result of a fall on an outstretched hand or a high-impact injury to the wrist area. Symptoms of a wrist fracture often include pain, swelling, limited mobility, and deformity. Understanding the causes, diagnosis, and treatment options is crucial for effective management and recovery.

Anatomy of the Wrist: Understanding the Injury

Understanding the complexities of wrist fractures necessitates a comprehensive grasp of the intricate wrist anatomy. The wrist joint, a marvel of biomechanical engineering, is a sophisticated structure that facilitates the myriad movements of the hand. It comprises several key components, primarily the radius and ulna bones of the forearm, and a cluster of eight small carpal bones arranged in two rows. The radius and ulna articulate with each other and the carpal bones to form the wrist joint. This joint allows for the pivotal movements of flexion, extension, medial, and lateral deviation and rotation, granting the hand its remarkable dexterity.

A wrist fracture can disrupt this intricate harmony. Fractures may involve the radius, ulna, or any of the carpal bones, and the specific bone affected and the nature of the fracture will dictate the treatment approach. A fracture to the radius, for instance, can significantly impact wrist stability and motion, while fractures of the carpal bones may also hinder fine motor skills. Therefore, an accurate diagnosis and tailored treatment plan that takes into account the precise location and severity of the fracture are essential to ensure not just bone healing but the restoration of the wrist’s multifaceted functionality.

Types of Wrist Fractures

There are several different types of wrist fractures, depending on which bones are involved and the specific nature of the fracture. Here are some common types:

  • Colles’ Fracture: This is one of the most common types of wrist fractures and typically involves a break in the radius bone, which is the larger bone of the forearm on the thumb side. Colles’ fractures often result from a fall onto an outstretched hand with the wrist extended backward.
  • Smith’s Fracture: Also known as a reverse Colles’ fracture, Smith’s fracture involves a break in the radius bone but with the wrist flexed forward. This type of fracture is often caused by a fall onto a flexed wrist. Joint fracture also occurs.
  • Scaphoid Fracture: The scaphoid is one of the small carpal bones in the wrist and is vulnerable to fractures. These fractures can be tricky to diagnose as they may mimic a wrist sprain. Scaphoid fractures often occur due to a fall on an outstretched hand.
  • Open Fractures: In an open fracture, the broken bone pierces through the skin, increasing the risk of infection and complicating treatment. Open wrist fractures are sometimes medical emergencies.
  • Barton’s Fracture: This type of fracture involves a break in the lower end of the radius bone, where it articulates with the carpal bones. Barton’s fractures are typically the result of high-impact injuries.
  • Intra-Articular Fractures: These fractures occur within the wrist joint itself, often affecting multiple bones, including the radius, ulna, and carpal bones. Intra-articular fractures can be more complex and may require surgical intervention.
  • Extra-Articular Fractures: These fractures do not involve the wrist joint itself but occur in the bones outside the joint. They can range from minor to more severe, depending on the location and displacement of the fracture.
  • Comminuted Fractures: In a comminuted fracture, the bone breaks into multiple fragments. This type of fracture can be more complicated to treat and may require surgery.
  • Greenstick Fractures: These fractures are more common in children. They are incomplete fractures where the bone bends and partially breaks, similar to a green twig bending.
  • Galeazzi Fracture: This type of fracture involves a break in the radius bone and dislocation of the ulna bone at the wrist joint. It often results from high-energy trauma.
  • Monteggia Fracture: While not strictly a wrist fracture, this is a fracture of the ulna bone in the forearm and dislocation of the radial head at the elbow joint. It can affect the wrist’s function due to its proximity and interconnecting with the wrist joint.

The specific treatment and prognosis for a wrist fracture depend on the type of fracture, its location, and the patient’s overall health. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are crucial for optimal recovery and preventing long-term complications.

Diagnosis of a Wrist Fracture: Imaging and Examination

Prompt medical attention is paramount when a wrist fracture is suspected. A wrist surgeon will conduct a thorough examination, considering symptoms and potentially ordering imaging tests, such as X-rays or CT scans, to confirm the diagnosis and assess the extent of the fracture. Proper diagnosis is crucial as it guides the treatment plan.

Non-Surgical Treatments for a Wrist Fracture

For stable wrist fractures or fractures where the bones are minimally displaced, non-surgical treatments can often effectively manage and promote healing.

Immobilization: Casts and Splints

Immobilization is a cornerstone of wrist fracture treatment. A cast or splint is used to hold the wrist in the correct position, so that the fractured bones are satisfactorily aligned during the healing process. The duration of immobilization depends on the type and severity of the fracture.

Pain Management: Medications and Rehabilitation

To alleviate pain and discomfort associated with wrist fractures, wrist surgeons may recommend pain medications, both over-the-counter and prescription. Additionally, home remedies like ice packs and elevation can help reduce swelling and pain.

Surgical Treatments for a Wrist Fracture

Wrist surgery may be necessary in cases where the wrist fracture is complex, unstable, or significantly displaced.

Indications for Surgery

Wrist surgery is typically recommended when non-surgical treatments are insufficient to align the fractured bones properly. The decision for surgery is influenced by factors such as the type of fracture, the degree of displacement, and individual patient needs. Your wrist surgeon would explore all non-surgical means prior to suggesting wrist surgery.

Different Surgical Procedures for Wrist Fractures

Several surgical techniques can be employed to treat wrist fractures. Here are different wrist fracture treatments commonly used:

  • Closed Reduction and Cast Immobilization: This approach involves manually manipulating the fractured bone(s) back into their proper alignment with anesthetic without making an incision. Once aligned, a cast is applied to immobilize the wrist and allow for healing. Casts are typically made of fiberglass. Custom splints are used as well.
  • Arthroscopy-Assisted Reduction: In some wrist fractures, minimally invasive arthroscopic techniques can be used to assist in the reduction (realignment) of fractured bones. This approach involves using a small camera and specialized instruments inserted through tiny incisions.
  • Open Reduction and Internal Fixation (ORIF): In cases where the fracture is displaced, unstable, or involves multiple pieces, surgical intervention may be necessary. During ORIF, a surgeon makes an incision to access the fractured bone(s). The fragments are then realigned, and various fixation devices like screws, plates, wires, or pins are used to hold them in place. This procedure provides stable internal support for the bones to heal correctly.
  • External Fixation: In some complex wrist fractures, an external fixation device is used. This device typically involves the insertion of pins or wires into the bone fragments. These pins or wires are then connected to an external frame, which stabilizes the bones from the outside. External fixation is often used in cases of severe trauma or open fractures.
  • Kirschner Wire (K-Wire) Fixation: K-wires are thin, flexible wires that can be used to stabilize certain wrist fractures. They are inserted through the skin and into the fractured bone to hold the fragments in place while healing occurs. 
  • Bone Grafting: In cases where there is a loss of bone or a non-healing fracture, bone grafting may be required. Bone grafts involve taking bone tissue from another part of the body (autograft) or using donor bone (allograft) to fill in gaps and promote bone healing.
  • Partial Wrist Fusion: In cases of severe arthritis or extensive damage to the wrist joint, partial wrist fusion may be considered. This procedure involves fusing some of the wrist bones together to stabilize and reduce pain in the joint.
  • Total Wrist Fusion: In extreme cases of wrist arthritis or when other treatments have failed, total wrist fusion may be recommended. This procedure involves fusing all the wrist bones together, eliminating wrist motion but often providing pain relief.

The choice of treatments depends on the type of wrist fracture. The treating wrist surgeon will determine the most appropriate approach for each individual patient, considering factors such as the type of fracture, the degree of displacement, and the patient’s overall health and activity level.

Rehabilitation and Exercises for a Wrist Fracture

After the initial healing phase, rehabilitation and exercises are essential for regaining wrist function, strength, and mobility.

A hand therapist or occupational therapist will work with the patient to create a personalized rehabilitation plan. This plan may include exercises to improve wrist range of motion, strength, and flexibility. Functional activities may be incorporated to enhance coordination and dexterity. It’s crucial to follow the therapist’s guidance and attend all scheduled rehabilitation sessions for the best recovery outcomes.

Tips for Speedy Recovery from a Wrist Fracture

To expedite recovery and ensure optimal healing, consider these tips:

  • Follow the Treatment Plan: Adhere to the prescribed treatment plan provided by your healthcare provider, whether it involves immobilization, medications, elevation, or rehabilitation exercises.
  • Immobilization: Keep the wrist immobilized as instructed to prevent further injury and promote proper healing.
  • Pain Management: Take prescribed pain medications as directed for pain relief.
  • Rehabilitation: Attend all rehabilitation sessions and diligently perform recommended exercises.
  • Overall Health: Maintain good general health with a balanced diet, adequate rest, and avoid activities that strain the wrist.

Prevention: Reducing the Risk of Wrist Injuries

While it may not be possible to prevent all wrist injuries, these steps can help reduce the risk:

  • Hand Protection: Use proper hand and wrist protection during activities that pose a high risk of injury, such as sports or manual labor.
  • Technique: Practice correct techniques and ergonomics to minimize strain on the wrist during physical activities.
  • Safe Environment: Maintain a safe environment to prevent falls or accidents that could lead to wrist injuries.
  • Rest and Strengthening: Allow adequate rest during repetitive tasks, and engage in exercises that strengthen the wrist and forearm muscles to reduce the risk of injury.

Do You Think You Have a Wrist Fracture?

If a wrist fracture is suspected, consult an orthopedic wrist surgeon such as Dr. Mark E. Pruzansky or Dr. Jason S. Pruzansky, for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. It’s important to receive quick care if a wrist fracture is suspected for effective management and recovery. 

Non-surgical wrist fracture treatments can often effectively manage stable fractures, while surgery may be necessary for complex or displaced fractures. Rehabilitation and exercises are vital for restoring wrist function and mobility. Taking preventive measures and practicing wrist safety techniques can reduce the risk of wrist injuries.