Hand/Wrist Fractures

Hand with cast

What is it?

A fracture is a break in the bone, and in this case in the hand or wrist. Fractures in the hand or wrist have a variety of causes including falling, sports injuries and motor vehicle crashes.

If you have a broken wrist or broken hand, you may experience any or all of the following:

  • Swelling 
  • Bruising 
  • Pain that increases with gripping or squeezing 
  • Obvious deformity, such as a bent wrist or crooked finger
  • Stiffness or inability to move your fingers or thumb
  • Numbness in your hand

Your doctor will carry out a physical exam and order an x-ray in order to diagnose the fracture. The physical exam will include the doctor looking at a variety of factors such as tenderness, swelling, range of motion and nerve damage.

What are the treatment options?

It is important to seek treatment for a fractured hand or wrist as soon as possible. Otherwise, it may not heal properly and will then affect your ability to use your hand and/or wrist.

To decrease pain, you may be prescribed pain medication or instructed to take an over-the-counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen sodium.

The most common treatment for a broken wrist or hand is immobilization using either a cast or a splint to restrict the movement of the broken bone.

If the broken ends of the bone are not aligned properly, your doctor will need to manipulate the pieces back into their proper positions — a process called fracture reduction. Depending on the amount of pain and swelling you have, you may need a muscle relaxant, a sedative or even a general anesthetic before this procedure.

If the fracture is unstable and cannot be treated with splinting or casting, surgery to place an internal fixation device such as screws, plates or rods may be indicated. Other times, the surgeon may immobilize your fracture by using an external fixation device. This consists of a metal frame with two or more pins that go through your skin and into the bone on either side of the fracture.

Risk Factors

Participating in certain sports or activities or having certain health conditions may increase your chances of a hand or wrist fracture occurring.

Sports that may increase the risk include:

  • basketball 
  • football 
  • rugby 
  • wrestling 
  • hockey 
  • skiing 
  • snowboarding 
  • in-line skating 
  • jumping on a trampoline

Health conditions that increase your risk are:

  • osteoporosis or any other bone disease 
  • smoking 
  • diet lacking bone-building calcium and vitamin D

Rehabilitation Plan - Exercises

After your cast or splint is removed, you may need rehabilitation exercises, with either occupational or physical therapy, to reduce stiffness and restore movement in your wrist and hand. Even with rehabilitation, it can take several months to restore normal function once your fracture has healed. 

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