Wrist fractures

Background

Wrist (distal radius) fractures usually occur following a fall onto an outstretched hand. There is pain and often a deformity. In significant fractures it is usually apparent something is wrong, although sometimes people think they have only sprained their wrist.

In cases of significant fracture, people usually attend the Accident & Emergency department where they can obtain an xray and if required an attempt to re-align the fracture.

     

Causes

An acute fracture occurs following a traumatic event, usually a fall onto an outstretched hand.

 

Symptoms

The main symptoms are pain and swelling of the wrist, with deformity.

 

Treatment - non-surgical

The majority of wrist fractures are able to be manipulated in the local Accident and Emergency department into a position which is satisfactory for healing. A plaster is applied to hold the bones in place while they heal. The plaster is usually on for 6 weeks.

 

Treatment - surgical

If the fracture is significantly displaced despite an attempt to re-align it, then surgery may be recommended.

Surgery usually involves a general anaesthetic. The bones may be manipulated and then held in place with wires that pass through the skin and into the bones to hold them in place. A plaster is applied to protect the wires and bones while they heal. In some cases it is necessary to make a cut on the front or back of the wrist to fix the bones with plates and screws. While this is a bigger operation it may mean that you are able to get the wrist moving quicker, however this will depend on the nature of your injury and the quality of the bone and fixation. Often people still require around 6 weeks in a plaster or splint.

 

Physiotherapy / rehabilitation after surgery

After surgery you will usually be in a plaster. You will be encouraged to keep the fingers, elbow and shoulder moving. After the plaster is removed your fingers will be stiff and you will be advised on the particularly exercises which are right for you.

 

Outcome

The results of surgery are generally good but depend on many factors. It is common that even with successful surgery and with the bones healing together, the wrist is stiffer than it was before the injury. What to expect will be discussed with you prior to any surgery.

 

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