Diagnosing a wrist fracture
The first step after an injury is diagnosis to confirm the wrist is indeed fractured. Often a fracture can be determined by a physical examination. This means a physician will listen to a patient’s symptoms and inspect the wrist to confirm a bone is broken. However, some people may need to undergo x-rays, a computed tomography (CT) scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to verify the extent of the damage.
Stable versus unstable fractures
To decide the best course of action for treatment, a physician needs to confirm whether a fracture is stable or unstable. Formally referred to as displaced and non-displaced breaks, these terms help determine how to treat the broken bone. A non-displaced fracture is considered stable, as the bones haven’t been moved out of position. This type of fracture can often be treated with just a splint or cast. Displaced fractures may require additional stability to ensure the wrist doesn’t heal with a crooked deformity, and plates or screws may be necessary.
Treating a wrist fracture
Regardless of whether a person has a stable or unstable fracture, immobilizing the joint is critical to supporting recovery. More severe breaks may require reconstructive surgery. Along with minimal wrist movement, patients might be encouraged to keep the injured hand raised above heart level to reduce discomfort or swelling. Likewise, pain medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or prescription medications may be provided. In cases of an open fracture, where the bone breaks through the skin, antibiotics or stitches might also be necessary.
Physical therapy during recovery
Since immobilization is the primary treatment method, patients will need to work to rebuild wrist strength. Physical therapy (PT) can include at-home and facility treatment with a licensed physical therapist. Initial activities will consist of light exercises such as gripping a rolled towel or rolling the wrist. Eventually, patients will graduate to lifting light weights to further strengthen the joint.
Proactive treatment for better outcomes
Fractured wrists are common injuries. Delaying treatment can lead to poor patient outcomes. Most individuals who suffer a broken wrist recover without long-term complications. If a wrist injury is suspected, immediate treatment can help prevent permanent damage or disfigurement.