As winter continues, we wanted to talk about one of the most common injuries due to winter weather: wrist fractures. After the first few bouts of snow and ice, we see an influx of patients who sustain a wrist fracture because they slipped.
How to Know If You Should Go To The ER
So you fell on the ice and you’re wondering if your wrist is broken and should you go to the emergency room. Usually, if you have to ask yourself, the answer is typically yes! With wrist fractures, most patients know it’s broken because of the extreme pain and swelling. If you have any bruising, this is also a sign of a broken bone. Any deformity in your wrist or if it is not moving correctly this is another obvious sign. If the bone is coming through the skin, then you should seek medical treatment immediately, especially if it’s bleeding significantly. If it seems broken, but no bleeding, you could start with your primary care physician if he or she is available for walk-ins.
Okay, So I Broke My Wrist…What’s Next
Will I Get a Cast?
If your doctor decides the bones are aligned well, he may place your wrist in a cast or splint for six to eight weeks. He may also adjust your cast after a week or so, because typically the swelling goes down and the original cast becomes loose. If you do receive a cast, the thing we try to stress is MOVE YOUR FINGERS. Keep moving them as much as you can to keep them from getting stiff. You will also want to move your elbow and shoulder as long as your physician says it’s safe for you to do so. Check out this video to see Laura McCarthy reviewing shoulder and elbow range of motion.
Will I Need Surgery?
Depending on the severity of the fracture, you may need surgery. If your fracture is displaced then you will have one of two procedures done. The first procedure that your doctor may think is necessary is an open reduction procedure (typically called an Open Reduction Internal Fixation, or ORIF). This is a surgical procedure where your doctor goes into the arm and realigns the bone(s) and bone fragments. After this procedure, you may have pins, screws, or plates holding your bone in place. Your doctor may give you a cast or splint after surgery to keep your wrist straight.
Closed reduction is the other option. Your doctor will manipulate the bones from outside the skin to align them, and then place the arm into a cast. With both of these procedures, your doctor will likely prescribe hand therapy afterwards. If your wrist fracture is recent and you are not sure that you want to have a procedure, it is wise to get a second opinion. If you are not sure whether you need a second opinion, please read our post on it here.
Will I Need Hand Therapy Treatment for a Wrist Fracture?
Your doctor may or may not recommend you attend hand therapy. If he or she did not recommend it, feel free to ask! Hand therapy can be very helpful after a wrist fracture. Hand therapy for your fracture looks different based on which procedure you have had. However, there are some similarities in treatment. With both procedures, one of the initial concerns will be treating the swelling. Our therapists use several techniques to reduce swelling. A second concern for your wrist after either procedure is range of motion. Your doctor will let you and your therapist know when you are able to begin range of motion exercises for the wrist. Other concerns in therapy are scar management and strengthening.
Typical Recovery Time
Most physicians are telling patients it will take about 3 months to recover from a wrist fracture. This depends on a lot of factors. Most of our patients are able to return to work (depending on their job) in three months. Compliance in your therapy program can expedite your success as well as not over-doing activities. We typically tell patients they will feel close to normal around 6 months, but that it may take up to a year for their wrist to feel like the non-injured side. Check out our blog about when you’ll feel normal again.
Our best tip for wrist fractures? Prevention! If you do not have to travel in bad weather, don’t. If you do have to go out in the winter weather, then make sure to wear good boots or shoes with a rubber sole and a good tread. This will cut down on your fall risk.
Interested in hand therapy after a wrist injury? Visit our Where to Begin page to become a patient. If you would like more information about wrist fractures and the different procedures that doctors can do, we recommend a visit to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons website.