5 Fast Facts About Broken Wrists

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  • You have eight small bones in your wrist, and any of them could break. More often, though, a broken wrist involves a break near the end of the long bone in your arm, or the radius, where it connects to the wrist bone. The medical name for this is a distal radius fracture. A broken wrist may be mild or severe. Treatment depends on where the break is located and how bad it is. Here's what you need to know.

  • 1
    See a doctor to prevent chronic problems.
    wrapping bandage around wrist

    Swelling, bruising, pain and tenderness are all symptoms of a sprained wrist. They're also symptoms of a broken wrist. Both injuries can make it hard to squeeze or move the fingers in your hand. If you fall, you could have either one of these and it's easy to mistake a mild fracture for a sprain. But without a cast or proper treatment for a broken wrist, the bone might not heal correctly. You could end up with chronic pain and stiffness. See a doctor to get the right diagnosis and the right treatment.

  • 2
    Falls cause most broken wrists.
    Woman falling on steps

    A car, bike or motorcycle accident can cause a broken wrist. However, most people break their wrist in a fall. Falling and landing on your open hand is usually the culprit. These types of falls often occur while playing sports. Falling from a height—like from a ladder—often results in a broken wrist, too. However, any direct, hard hit to the wrist can cause a broken wrist. So can something that crushes the hand. A very hard fall or hit can break even a strong, healthy bone in the wrist.

  • 3
    You may need a cast, splint or surgery to treat a broken wrist.
    Man with wrist injury

    Treatment will depend on the type of fracture and which bone breaks. You might need a splint to help hold the bone in place while it heals. A cast can treat a break that's stable and not shattered into many pieces. You might need surgery if the fracture includes a bone that goes through the skin or shatters. Your doctor will discuss all the things that can affect your treatment plan. For instance, is the break on your dominant hand? Your health, your job, and your daily responsibilities will also play a role in deciding what treatment is best for you.

  • 4
    Sports, age, and health problems increase your risk for a broken wrist.
    Senior woman with wrist pain

    Snowboarding and in-line skating, as well as other activities that could involve falling, make you more likely to break your wrist. Contact sports, like football, hockey and basketball, also increase your risk. Other risk factors include health conditions like osteoporosis and other diseases that weaken your bones. Not getting enough vitamin D and calcium in your diet can increase your risk, too. Smoking can also play a role because smoking keeps your body from absorbing calcium well. This weakens your bones and raises your risk for a wrist fracture.

  • 5
    Expect a long recovery.
    Boy with broken wrist

    You may need a cast or splint for several weeks while your wrist heals. You'll also need physical therapy to help with recovery. You'll learn special stretches and exercises to strengthen the muscles in your wrist. The goal is being able to use your wrist normally again. Physical therapy may last for several months after your cast or splint comes off. Most people resume light activities in a month or two. It may be six months before you can return to sports. Pain and stiffness will improve over time. Still, it could be up to two years before your wrist is back to normal.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 May 21
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Broken Wrist/Broken Hand. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/broken-wrist/basics/definition/con-20031382
  2. Distal Radius Fractures (Broken Wrist). American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00412
  3. Wrist Fractures. American Society for Surgeon of the Hand. http://www.assh.org/handcare/hand-arm-injuries/wrist-fractures
  4. Wrist Sprains. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00023