What is a Wrist Fracture?
A wrist fracture means that you have broken one of the many bones that are a part of your wrist. In the forearm, two long bones extend from the elbow to the hand. At the wrist end of the bone, eight small bones connect to the forearm. When one or more of these ten bones break or crack, it is called a wrist fracture or a broken wrist.
Wrist fractures are characterized by the type of break, the number of bone breaks, and the effect on the wrist joint.
Sprained vs. broken wrist
It’s important to know the difference between a broken wrist and a sprain. A wrist sprain is a common injury to the ligament (tissue that connects bones to other bones), while a fracture is an injury to the actual bone.
Both injuries may cause pain, swelling, and bruising, but there are other telltale signs of a broken bone. Wrist fractures present specific symptoms such as severe pain, loss of mobility in the hand or wrist, deformity in appearance, and tingling or numbness in the fingers. Fractures may be more severe than sprains, and some may require immediate treatment.
Types of Wrist Fractures
Wrist fracture types vary, depending upon the location of the break and properties of the bone. This may include whether the bone moved (displaced fracture) or stayed aligned (nondisplaced fracture), and whether the bone is still under the skin or has punctured the skin.
The type of fracture may also depend on the condition of the bone—if it’s a simple break, which means it is broken in one spot, or if it’s broken into multiple pieces (a comminuted fracture).
Other wrist fracture types include:
- Distal radius fractures - The most common type of fracture. Distal radius fractures occur when the radius bone at the thumb side of the forearm breaks at the wrist end. There are two types:
- Colles fracture - Often causes a distinct bump on the wrist. This happens when the broken end of the bone shifts up the back of the hand.
- Smith fracture - A less common break caused by an impact to the back of the wrist, where the fractured wrist has a downward slope in appearance
- Radial fracture - When the pointed tip at the end of the radius bone is broken. Some physicians may refer to it as a radial styloid process, but this break is also known by additional names, including a chauffeur fracture, Hutchinson fracture, and backfire fracture.
- Distal ulna fracture - Occurs when the long bone breaks on the pinky side of the wrist. This type of fracture is usually caused by a direct fall onto an outstretched arm. It is also called an ulnar styloid fracture or ulnar styloid process.
Additional types of fractures include:
- Hairline fracture of the wrist - When the wrist bone is severely bruised or has a small crack, which may cause pain and worsen over time with repeated use
- Scaphoid fracture – This type of fracture may be most noticeable when your hand pinches or grabs an object. It is caused by a break in the small bone at the thumb side of the wrist.
- Buckle wrist fracture - Also known as a torus fracture or impacted fracture, this type of fracture is considered an incomplete break, where the bone buckles from impact but stays intact. It is more common in children, whose bones are more flexible, and takes about a month to heal.
- Barton’s fracture - A more serious and rare type of fracture. A Barton’s fracture is caused by landing on a bent wrist, which breaks a bone and dislocates another bone. It usually requires surgery to correct and symptoms may include numbness in the fingertips and severe swelling.
Signs & Symptoms of a Wrist Fracture
Broken wrist symptoms may vary. Even if you are experiencing only some of the symptoms below, your wrist could still be broken. See your doctor as soon as possible for treatment.
Certain signs and symptoms of a wrist fracture are more common, including:
- Fingers may lose color
- Wrist may look deformed or misshaped
Loss of function
- Pain when gripping or pinching objects
- Limited range of movement (i.e., unable to lift, turn, or carry items with the affected hand)
- Complete loss of use of the wrist or hand
- General pain or discomfort with the use of wrist, hand, or fingers
- Numbness and tingling in the fingers
- Tenderness to the touch
- Severe pain
Causes of a Wrist Fracture
The most common causes of wrist fractures are sudden falls. Older adults with weaker bones or low bone density are more likely to break a wrist, especially from fall-related accidents. People who do high-energy sports and activities, such as football or mountain climbing, may also have a higher fracture risk.
Certain sports, physical activity, trauma, and bone conditions may lead to a broken wrist. Common causes or risk factors of a wrist fracture may include:
- High-impact sports, such as football, hockey, soccer, rugby, and wrestling
- Direct trauma from cars, bikes, or motorcycle accidents, falls on ice, or work-related injuries
- Bone conditions, such as osteoporosis or age-related falls
- Other activities, such as horseback riding, skiing, snowboarding, and trampoline falls
Anyone can end up with a broken wrist from a fall, injury, or accident, but there are ways to reduce your risk.
- To protect your wrist during a fall, keep your arms bent at the elbow, and do not try to break your fall using your hands or elbows
- Avoid high-impact sports that increase your fracture risk or wear protective equipment such as arm pads and wrist guards when playing
- Build your bone strength with weight-bearing exercises that increase arm strength, such as tennis
Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Wrist Fracture Care
The world-class doctors at NewYork-Presbyterian provide high-quality diagnosis and care for wrist fractures and related injuries. Contact us to make an appointment today.