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Broken wrist/broken hand

A broken wrist or broken hand is a break or crack in one of the many bones within your wrist and hand. The most common of these injuries occurs in the wrist when people try to catch themselves during a fall and land hard on an outstretched hand.

Risk factors for a broken wrist or broken hand range from participation in certain sports — such as in-line skating or snowboarding — to having a condition in which bones become thinner and more fragile (osteoporosis).

It's important to treat a broken wrist or broken hand as soon as possible. Otherwise, the bones may not heal in proper alignment, which can affect your ability to perform everyday activities, such as grasping a pen or buttoning a shirt. Early treatment will also help minimize pain and stiffness.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

If you have a broken wrist or broken hand, you may experience these signs and symptoms:

  • Severe pain that tends to increase during gripping or squeezing
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Bruising
  • Obvious deformity, such as a bent wrist or crooked finger
  • Stiffness or inability to move your fingers or thumb
  • Numbness in your hand

When to call a doctor

If you think you may have a broken wrist or hand, see a doctor immediately, especially if you have numbness, swelling or trouble moving your fingers. A delay in diagnosis and treatment can lead to poor healing, decreased range of motion and decreased grip strength.

A direct blow or crushing injury to your hands and wrists can break any of the bones in them. Common causes include:

  • Falls. Falling onto an outstretched hand is one of the most common causes of a broken wrist or broken hand.
  • Sports injuries. Many wrist or hand fractures occur during contact sports or sports in which you might fall onto an outstretched hand — such as in-line skating or snowboarding.
  • Motor vehicle crashes. High-velocity injuries that can occur during motor vehicle crashes may cause wrist or hand bones to fracture into many pieces, often requiring surgical repair.

Participating in certain sports activities or having certain health conditions may increase your chances of experiencing a broken wrist or broken hand.

Sports activities

Certain activities may increase your risk of breaking bones in your wrist or hand, such as:

  • Basketball
  • Football
  • Rugby
  • Wrestling
  • Hockey
  • Skiing
  • Snowboarding
  • In-line skating
  • Jumping on a trampoline

Health conditions

You may be more susceptible to broken bones if you:

  • Have osteoporosis or another bone disease
  • Are a smoker, because smoking affects the absorption of calcium
  • Have a diet that's lacking in bone-building calcium and vitamin D

Complications of a broken wrist or broken hand are rare, but they may include:

  • Ongoing stiffness, aching or disability. Stiffness, pain or aching in the affected area generally goes away a month or two after your cast is removed or after surgery, and may continue improving for up to two years after the injury. However, you may have some permanent stiffness or aching if your injury was severe. Be patient with your recovery, and talk to your doctor about exercises that might help or for a referral to physical or occupational therapy.
  • Osteoarthritis. Fractures that extend into the joint may cause arthritis years later. If your wrist or hand starts to hurt or swell long after a break, see your doctor for an evaluation.
  • Nerve or blood vessel damage. Trauma to the wrist or hand can injure adjacent nerves and blood vessels. Seek immediate attention if you notice any numbness or circulation problems.

It's impossible to prevent the unforeseen events that often cause a broken wrist or broken hand. But these basic tips may offer some protection.

Build bone strength

Build strong bones by:

  • Eating a nutritious diet with adequate calcium and vitamin D
  • Getting plenty of weight-bearing exercise, such as brisk walking
  • Quit smoking if you're a smoker

Prevent falls

Most broken wrists occur when people fall forward onto an outstretched hand. To prevent this common injury:

  • Wear sensible shoes
  • Remove home hazards
  • Light up your living space
  • Have your vision checked
  • Install grab bars in your bathroom
  • Install handrails on your stairways
  • Avoid slippery surfaces, if possible, such as snow- or ice-covered walkways

Use protective gear for athletic activities

Wear wrist guards for high-risk activities, such as:

  • In-line skating
  • Snowboarding
  • Rugby
  • Football
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