A broken wrist is a fairly common injury, especially in children who participate in contact sports or the elderly with osteoporosis. A broken wrist is defined by a fracture in one of the many bones within the wrist and usually happens after extreme pressure or impact is placed upon the hand. If not treated properly, the wrist may not heal well and can be more susceptible to later fractures and complications.
A broken wrist is more common in children and the elderly simply because their bones are soft or brittle. The most common way to incur a broken wrist is by falling forward and using the hands as a barrier to the ground. The extreme force and weight the wrist is subjected to can cause the bones to buckle and break. However, many fractures are believed to be sprains and go undiagnosed and untreated. An improperly treated fracture can result in an increased likelihood the fracture will happen a second time and can impair the motor skills of the hand.
Signs and Symptoms
The common signs and symptoms of a broken wrist are stiffness in the joints, fingers or thumbs, tenderness, bruising, swelling, severe pain while gripping or squeezing hand, numbness or coldness in fingers and severe deformity. A wrist can be broken without deformity and severe pain. These fractures are most often mistaken for sprains or nothing at all and tend to go untreated.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a wrist fracture can result in later stiffness or aching of the joints. This pain tends to go away after two or three months but if the fracture was severe enough, the pain may be permanent. A severe fracture can also damage surrounding blood vessels and nerves and can cause numbness or circulation problems. After a wrist fracture, you are also at a higher risk for osteoarthritis.
Your doctor will immobilize the broken wrist using a splint or cast. He will then prescribe medication for the pain and swelling. Usually an over-the-counter medication is sufficient, but he may prescribe an opiate if the pain is severe. Once the cast is removed, you may need certain exercises or therapy to rehabilitate the muscles in your wrist. This helps ensure a lower risk or stiffness and pain, and can restore full movement to the hand. Occasionally, surgery may be needed to correct a fracture.
When to See the Doctor
If you are unsure as to whether or not you have broken the wrist or bruised it, try waiting 24 hours to see if the bruising and swelling disappears. Manage the pain with an over-the-counter pain reliever. If the symptoms are still around the next day, call your doctor and set up an appointment.