Common Wrist Fractures and Repair

I see many wrist fractures, these are among the most common along with symptoms and treatment.

Distal Radius Fracture

The most commonly broken wrist bone with a fall on an outstretched hand is a break of the distal radius. The radius is the larger of the two forearm bones and the end toward the wrist is called the distal end. When the area of the radius near the wrist breaks it is considered to be a fracture of the distal radius. Distal radius fractures are very common.

Symptoms of a distal radius fracture are immediate pain, bruising, swelling, and tenderness. Often times the wrist hangs in an odd or bent way, otherwise known as a deformity.

What are the risk factors for a distal radius fracture?
Osteoporosis is a risk factor for all types of fractures, especially a distal radius fracture. A broken wrist can happen in healthy bones as well. The majority of these types of fractures occur in people older than 60 years of age who fall from a standing position. The other subset of people who injure their wrist are young patients with a high impact fall, causing a break in an otherwise normal wrist.

How is a distal radius fracture treated without surgery?
Treatment for a distal radius fracture involves the nature of the fracture, the age and activity level of the person injured, and the orthopedic specialist’s personal preferences. The doctor can cast the broken bone if it is in good position and is stable. Sometimes the orthopedic specialist must straighten the bone (reduce it) before a cast is applied. This is what doctor’s call a closed reduction. The cast is usually worn for about 6 weeks and at that time the doctor could order physical therapy to help with rehabilitation.

What is involved in surgical treatment?
There are times when distal radius fractures result in the bone being so much out of place that it cannot be corrected without surgery. The orthopedic surgeon will make an incision to directly access the broken bones to improve alignment. The bone can be held in correct position with the use of a plate and screws, metal pins, an external fixator or any combination of techniques.

Scaphoid Fracture of the Wrist

The scaphoid bone is one of the small bones in the wrist, and it is the wrist bone that is most likely to break. It is located on the thumb side of the wrist in the area where the wrist bends. It can be easily located when the thumb is held in a “hitch-hiking” position. The scaphoid bone is at the base of the hollow made by the thumb tendons.

Symptoms it is fractured include pain, swelling, and tenderness at the base of the thumb. The pain will worsen when the person grips something or tries to move the thumb or wrist. A scaphoid fracture is usually caused by a fall onto an outstretched hand and is not always as painful as one might think.

What are the risk factors for a scaphoid fracture?
Anyone can fracture their scaphoid bone but it is more common in athletes who participate in activities where falls are common. Men aged 20 to 30 are most likely to experience this type of injury.

How is a scaphoid fracture treated without surgery?
If the bone is in proper position and has good blood supply, the orthopedic specialist may treat it by casting. The cast is usually worn for 12 weeks. Many opt for surgical stabilization to minimize the length of immobility.

What is involved in surgical treatment?
Due to the precarious nature of the blood supply to the scaphoid, the orthopedic specialist may recommend surgery to optimize healing and prevent long term wrist arthritis. During the procedure metal implants (such as screws and wires) are used to hold the scaphoid in place until the bone is completely healed. The surgeon makes an incision over the front or the back of the wrist to align the bone, insert the metal implants, and repair the damage.

In special situations where the bone is not healing well on its own, a bone graft may be needed to aid in healing. A bone graft is new bone that is place around the broken bone to help stimulate bone healing. This allows the bone pieces to heal together into a solid bone.