What Is a Wrist Fracture?
A fracture is a broken bone. Wrist fractures usually involve one of two bones: the radius or the scaphoid. The radius is the larger of the two bones of the forearm (the other is the ulna). The scaphoid is a small bone near the base of the thumb. Wrist fractures vary in severity and may involve the joint surfaces.
Most commonly, wrist fractures occur from a fall on an outstretched hand. The nature of the fracture is related to the way a person falls on the hand, as well as how hard the person lands. Wrist fractures can also occur as a result of a direct trauma to the wrist.
Pain, swelling and sometimes deformity of the wrist are the most common symptoms. If there is nerve damage, the fingers may be numb and fine-motor manipulation may be difficult. With a scaphoid fracture, the wrist near the thumb is swollen and painful, especially when rotating the wrist.
X-rays, which show dense tissue like bone, can generally detect fractures of the wrist. A scaphoid fracture, on the other hand, is usually diagnosed based on the physical examination, as well as with other methods of imaging.
An X-ray may not show a scaphoid fracture until one to two weeks after the injury has occurred. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan is more effective for initially diagnosing scaphoid fractures.
Symptoms can be controlled by anti-inflammatory medications and painkillers, but a broken wrist needs help healing. The doctor may need to line up the two fractured ends of the radius or scaphoid. Then the wrist is immobilized, usually with a cast or splint, for healing to begin. Sometimes the surgeon inserts pins, plates or screws to keep the bone together while it heals.
A cast is worn for three to six weeks in the case of a radius fracture, and up to 12 weeks for a scaphoid fracture. The scaphoid bone may be fully healed in three to four months, while a radius fracture may take 6 to 12 months to heal completely.
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