Wrist Injuries: Is it Sprained or Is It Broken?

Sprained or Broken? It’s only November, but the Detroit area already had our first snowfall – with continued low temperatures in the forecast. Precipitation plus cold weather means that it’s slip and fall time of year. Ice can form quickly and unobtrusively, presenting unseen falling dangerous conditions. Additionally, skiing, snowmobiling and skating accidents are also common causes of injuries this time of year.

Unfortunately humans often try to break their falls by extending their hand and wrist.  And landing on the delicate bones of the hand and wrist, makes wrist sprains and breaks among the most common winter injuries in Michigan.  But if you fall onto your hand or wrist, how can you tell if it is just sprained, or if it is broken?

Wrist Sprains vs. Breaks

If your wrist is simply sore after a fall, it could quite possibly be only a sprain. But our bodies will tell us if things are getting better or getting worse. If you think the wrist may just be sprained, initial treatment can consist of resting it in an elevated position, icing it for 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off, and taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as Ibuprofen, Alleve or aspirin. If after a day the pain has not reduced, further evaluation should be sought.

However, if the wrist is obviously out of alignment, severely swollen, or you are unable to move it, an X-ray is warranted, as there is most probably a broken bone. Fractures require immediate intervention, to ensure the bone is set correctly so healing can proceed properly. Failure to follow through could result in a longer recovery time, and further problems in the future.

Types of Broken Wrists

The most common fractures from falls are breaks to the distal radius. The radius is the large bone in the arm that connects the hand to the elbow. The break typically occurs on the thumb side of the radius, an inch or so above where your wrist bends.

Treatment for this type of injury usually involves casting or splinting the wrist to keep it stable and in a resting position. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories may be prescribed, and reduced activity during the healing period, which is typically about six weeks. Most urgent care or emergency room doctors are qualified to initially diagnose and treat simple distal radius fractures.

However, after an ER visit, always follow up with an orthopedic specialist or a hand doctor. In some severe cases, or if other, smaller bones are also broken in the wrist, surgery may be required. Temporary or permanent pins or wires may be required to hold the bones in place while healing takes place. For this procedure you want a specialized, board certified hand surgeon like Dr. Rehman.

Whether you have experienced a sprain or a break, as part of the healing program, your hand doctor will likely prescribe gentle exercises to keep the wrist flexible and to re-build strength. In cases of severe breaks more extensive occupational or physical hand therapy will likely be needed. As healing progresses, the exercises will increase in duration and frequency, and may include weight bearing in the later stages of healing.

Top Troy Area Hand & Wrist Wrist Doctor

The hands and wrist are comprised of many delicate bones, tendons and ligaments, and can perform incredibly minute movements. A specialist hand and wrist doctor and surgeon, such as Dr. Rehman, will be able to provide the long-term treatment program and other modalities needed to regain full strength and range of motion. Our team of hand therapists will continue to work with you until your recovery until it is complete.

Troy Area Hand & Wrist Wrist Doctor: 248.335.2638