Your wrist is made up of eight small bones (carpal bones) plus two long bones in your forearm — the radius and the ulna. The most commonly injured carpal bone is the scaphoid bone, located near the base of your thumb.
The distal radius fracture is one of the most common fractures of the wrist. It usually occurs when people fall on an outstretched hand.
A broken wrist is a break or crack in one or more of the bones of your wrist. The most common of these injuries occurs in the wrist when people try to catch themselves during a fall and land hard on an outstretched hand.
You may be at higher risk of a broken wrist if you participate in sports like in-line skating or snowboarding, or if you have a condition in which bones become thinner and more fragile (osteoporosis).
It's important to treat a broken wrist as soon as possible. Otherwise, the bones might not heal in proper alignment, which might affect your ability to do everyday activities, such as writing or buttoning a shirt. Early treatment will also help minimize pain and stiffness.
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A broken wrist might cause these signs and symptoms:
- Severe pain that might worsen when gripping or squeezing or moving your hand or wrist
- Obvious deformity, such as a bent wrist
When to call a doctor
If you think you might have a broken wrist, see a doctor immediately, especially if you have numbness, swelling or trouble moving your fingers. A delay in diagnosis and treatment can lead to poor healing, decreased range of motion and decreased grip strength.
A broken wrist can be caused by:
- Falls. Falling onto an outstretched hand is one of the most common causes of a broken wrist.
- Sports injuries. Many wrist fractures occur during contact sports or sports in which you might fall onto an outstretched hand — such as in-line skating or snowboarding.
- Motor vehicle crashes. Motor vehicle crashes can cause wrist bones to break, sometimes into many pieces, and often require surgical repair.
Participating in certain sports activities and having the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis can increase your chances of breaking a wrist.
Contact sports and activities that increase your risk of falling can increase your risk of breaking bones in your wrist. Examples include:
- Football or soccer, especially on artificial turf
- Horseback riding
- In-line skating
- Jumping on a trampoline
Complications of a broken wrist are rare, but they might include:
- Ongoing stiffness, aching or disability. Stiffness, pain or aching in the affected area generally goes away eventually after your cast is removed or after surgery. However, some people have permanent stiffness or pain. Be patient with your recovery, and talk to your doctor about exercises that might help or for a referral to physical or occupational therapy.
- Osteoarthritis. Fractures that extend into a joint can cause arthritis years later. If your wrist starts to hurt or swell long after a break, see your doctor for an evaluation.
- Nerve or blood vessel damage. Trauma to the wrist can injure adjacent nerves and blood vessels. Seek immediate attention if you have numbness or circulation problems.
It's impossible to prevent the unforeseen events that often cause a broken wrist. But these tips might offer some protection.
Build bone strength
To build strong bones:
- Eat a nutritious diet with adequate calcium and vitamin D
- Get plenty of weight-bearing exercise, such as brisk walking
- Quit smoking if you're a smoker
Most broken wrists occur when people fall forward onto an outstretched hand. To prevent this common injury:
- Wear sensible shoes
- Remove things you can trip over in your home, such as throw rugs
- Light up your living space
- Have your vision checked and, if needed, corrected
- Install grab bars in your bathroom
- Install handrails on your stairways
- Avoid slippery surfaces, if possible, such as snow- or ice-covered walkways
Use protective gear for athletic activities
Wear wrist guards for high-risk activities, such as:
- In-line skating