The wrist is a part of the body that is injured frequently, and these injuries may result in pain, a sprained wrist or even a wrist fracture. A wrist fracture is a medical term for a broken wrist, which means you’ve broken one or more of the many bones in your wrist. There are eight wrist bones which are connected to the forearm bones called the radius and the ulna. The radius is the most common bone to break in the wrist. This injury typically happens from falling on an outstretched hand, but it can also result from traumatic events such as a car accident.
Wrist fractures can range in severity. You may have a “non-displaced” break, which means the bones did not move out of place. Or, your break may be “displaced” in which the bones need to be put back into place. In some fractures, the bone(s) can shatter into multiple pieces (comminuted fractures). Some patients have also suffered from an open fracture, which is when a fragment of bone is forced out through the skin.
Sometimes, it’s not always clear if you’re suffering from an actual wrist fracture. Here are five signs that you may have broken your wrist:
- Pain and swelling in the wrist
- Inability or difficulty using the hand or wrist
- Deformed-looking wrist
- Pain with finger movement
- Numb or tingling fingers
Many people mistakenly believe that if you can still move your wrist, it may not be broken. But, even if you’re only having some of the symptoms above, your wrist can still be broken. A sprained wrist is also a common injury and may sometimes be confused with a wrist fracture. Wrist sprains are different from wrist fractures in that they are an injury to a ligament rather than a bone. As with wrist fractures, wrist sprains can vary in severity, with some causing the ligament to stretch and others tearing the ligament. Some of the symptoms of a sprained wrist are similar to those of a wrist fracture, including bruising, swelling and pain with motion.
So, how do you know if you’ve sprained your wrist versus broken it? The answer is to see a hand surgeon as soon as possible. Your hand surgeon will examine your wrist to see how it moves and where you’re feeling pain and will likely take an x-ray, which can determine if a bone is broken and/or show signs of a ligament tear. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, it’s important to see a doctor right away, or you’re risking permanent damage to your wrist. This could include permanent stiffness or an inability to use your wrist in the same way you did before.
Depending on the severity of your fracture, your surgeon will determine a treatment plan that works best for you. Your wrist fracture may be treated with a splint or cast. If your break is severe, you may even need surgery. After surgery, your surgeon may recommend that you work with a hand therapist to help regain function in your wrist.