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Wrist Fracture(Fracture, Wrist; Broken Wrist; Scaphoid Fracture; Navicular Fracture)
Definition

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 called the radius and the ulna. It also includes 8 carpal bones. The carpal bones lie between the end of the forearm bones and the bases of the fingers. The most commonly fractured carpal bone is called the scaphoid or navicular bone.

This fact sheet will focus on fractures of the carpal bones of the wrist. Wrist fractures of the radius, often called Colles' fracture, can be found on a separate sheet.

Scaphoid Fracture

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Causes

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

Factors that increase your chance of a wrist fracture include:

  • Participating in contact sports, such as football or soccer
  • Participating in activities such as in-line skating, skateboarding, or bike riding
  • Participating in any activity which could cause you to fall on your outstretched hand
  • Violence or high-velocity trauma, such as an automobile accident
Symptoms

A wrist fracture may cause:

  • Pain
  • Swelling and tenderness around the wrist
  • Bruising around the wrist
  • Limited range of wrist or thumb motion
  • Visible deformity in the wrist
Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, physical activity, and how the injury occurred. The injured area will be examined.

Imaging tests assess the bones, surrounding structures, and soft tissues. This can be done with:

Treatment

Proper treatment can prevent long-term complications or problems with your wrist. Treatment will depend on how serious the fracture is, but may include:

Initial Care

Extra support may be needed to protect, support, and keep your wrist in line while it heals. Supportive steps may include a splint or cast to immobilize the injury.

Some fractures cause pieces of bone to separate. Your doctor will need to put these pieces back into their proper place. This may be done:

  • Without surgery—you will have anesthesia to decrease pain while the doctor moves the pieces back into place
  • With surgery—pins, screws, plates, or wires may be needed to reconnect the pieces and hold them in place

Children’s bones are still growing at an area of the bone called the growth plate. If the fracture affected the growth plate, your child may need to see a specialist. Injuries to the growth plate will need to be monitored to make sure the bone can continue to grow as expected.

Medication

The following medications may be advised:

  • Over-the-counter medication to reduce inflammation and pain
  • Prescription pain medication

Check with your doctor before taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or aspirin.

Note: Aspirin is not recommended for children or teens with a current or recent viral infection. This is because of the risk of Reye syndrome. Ask your doctor which medications are safe for your child.

Rehabilitation

You may be referred to physical therapy or rehabilitation to start range-of-motion and strengthening exercises.

Prevention

To help reduce your chance of a wrist fracture:

  • Do not put yourself at risk for trauma to the bone.
  • Always wear a seatbelt when driving or riding in a car.
  • Do weight-bearing and strengthening exercises regularly to build strong bones.
  • Wear proper padding and safety equipment when participating in sports or activities.

To help reduce falling hazards at work and home, take these steps:

  • Clean spills and slippery areas right away.
  • Remove tripping hazards such as loose cords, rugs, and clutter.
  • Use non-slip mats in the bathtub and shower.
  • Install grab bars next to the toilet and in the shower or tub.
  • Put in handrails on both sides of stairways.
  • Walk only in well-lit rooms, stairs, and halls.
  • Keep flashlights on hand in case of a power outage.

RESOURCES:

The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
http://www.sportsmed.org

Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
http://orthoinfo.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Orthopaedic Association
http://www.coa-aco.org

Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
http://www.canorth.org

References:

Distal radius fractures (broken wrist). American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00412. Updated March 2013. Accessed September 30, 2014.

Distal radius fracture. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated September 15, 2014. Accessed September 30, 2014.



Last reviewed August 2014 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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