What You Need to Know About Wrist Fractures

wrist fracture

You might be surprised at how many wrist fractures occur in the winter. The weather’s cold that is frequently snowy and icy, and both driving and walking conditions are treacherous. Icy sidewalks and walkways can cause even the most careful among us to fall, and falls are the most frequent cause of wrist fractures. 

Types of Wrist Fractures

Think of what you would do if you tripped and fell forward. Would you just close your eyes and fall on your face? If you’re like most people, probably not. More likely, you would stretch out your arms and try to brace the fall using your hands. This might spare you a concussion or a more severe head injury, but landing on an outstretched hand is also one of the most common causes of broken wrists. 

There are a number of types of wrist fractures, depending on which of the small, delicate bones in the wrist breaks and how they break. Distal radius fractures, where the radius (one of the two forearm bones) breaks at the end closest to the hand, are the most common types of wrist fractures.  Most distal radius fractures are caused by trying to catch oneself on an outstretched hand while falling, but not all fractures are the same.  Depending on the way the bone breaks, some types of these fractures have names, such as Colles fractures or Smith’s fractures. Scaphoid fractures, which are breaks in a small bone between the distal radius and the thumb, are also common and also caused by falling onto an outstretched hand. 

Other types of wrist fractures are classified by the bone or bones that break. What they have in common is that a fall is the most common causes, though certainly not the only way to break your wrist. 

Is My Wrist Sprained or Broken?

A sprained wrist and broken wrist can be tough to tell apart because the symptoms are so similar. Both cause: 

  • Pain in the wrist
  • Limited range of motion
  • Swelling or bruising

However, fractures are broken bones, whereas sprains are injured ligaments—those tough bands of tissue that connect bones to each other. Because they’re different injuries, they require different treatments. 

There’s often no easy way for a patient to tell the difference between a sprained wrist and a broken wrist. If the wrist looks crooked, that’s usually a fracture. If you can’t tell by looking at it, you could have broken or sprained your wrist. If you have had a wrist injury, make an appointment with Dr. Jacobson. It’s likely that he’ll order an X-ray, which will look for broken bones. Some patients will need advanced imaging, such as an MRI or a CT scan, in addition to an X-ray. After Dr. Jacobson evaluates you, he will know what tests you need. 

Decreasing Your Risk

Wrist fractures and balance trouble are linked, especially in older patients. A 2016 study in Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery suggests that elderly people who have broken their wrists are more likely to have poor balance. 

Balance is not just an innate quality but a skill, and as with any other skill it can be practiced and trained. Strengthening muscles in your legs and core can also improve balance. Training your balance is one of the best ways to decrease your risk of wrist fractures. 

Two excellent forms of exercise to improve your balance are yoga and tai chi. Both are gentle, low-impact practices that nearly anyone can do, and both may carry benefits beyond balance. Yoga and tai chi are being studied for their health benefits, and medical science is working to quantify these benefits. 

Beyond tai chi and yoga, one of the best strategies to improve balance is focusing on strengthening core muscles. The core is all of the muscles in the trunk—basically, anything not in the arms, legs or head. Most people think of abdominal muscles when they hear “core,” but back muscles are just as important as the abs, if not more so. 

This winter, watch where you’re walking and work on your balance to decrease the chance you break your wrist. If you do take a spill, request an appointment with Dr. Jacobson. No matter how minor or severe your wrist fracture is, Dr. Jacobson can help.