About wrist fractures
Common injuries from a fall
In Canada, many of us look forward to Spring and the end of all that snow, but when it starts to melt and the ground gets icy, it’s sometimes hard to appreciate, especially if you are one of the many people who have been injured in a fall. In fact, Albertans are seriously injured by slipping and falling on ice at the second highest rate in Canada – an average of 42.3 hospitalizations per 100,000 people between 2011 and 2016, based on statistics compiled by the Canadian Institute for Health Information. Saskatchewan has the highest rate.
Cold weather can also make muscles and ligaments cold and tight, increasing the propensity for injury in all age groups. One of the most common injuries occurs when you try to break your fall with your hands, often resulting in a wrist fracture.
The wrist is made up of eight small bones which connect with the two long forearm bones called the radius and ulna. Although a broken wrist can happen in any of these 10 bones, by far the most common bone to break is the radius – called a distal radius fracture. The scaphoid bone, one of the small wrist bones, can also be commonly fractured after such a fall. Bone diseases like osteoporosis can also increase the likelihood of a fracture.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU HAVE A FRACTURE?
With a distal radius fracture, there is often pain, swelling, or difficulty moving or using the hand and wrist. A bone out of place can make the wrist appear deformed and sometimes the fingers tingle or feel numb at the tips.
Symptoms of a scaphoid fracture typically include pain and tenderness in the area just below the base of the thumb, which may worsen when you try to pinch or grasp something. However, unless you or your doctor sees a visible deformation of your wrist, it might not be obvious that your scaphoid bone is broken. Sometimes, the pain is mild and may be mistaken for a wrist sprain.
Seeing a physician after such a fall is important in helping to avoid potential complications of a fracture, such as the bone not healing, disrupted blood supply to the bone, or development into early arthritis.
WHAT ARE THE TREATMENT OPTIONS?
Depending on the type of fracture, wrist injuries can be treated with splints or casts. In more serious or complex breaks, surgery may be required to correctly position and stabilize damaged bones.
Treatment for a scaphoid fracture can range from casting to surgery, depending on the fracture's severity and location in the bone. That’s why it’s important to accurately diagnose and localize the fracture.
Depending on the scenario, your doctor may send you for an X-ray to determine if there are any fractured bones. Interestingly, scaphoid fractures cannot always be seen on X-rays immediately after the injury. If your doctor suspects that you have a fracture, but it’s not visible on the X-ray, he or she may recommend that you wear a wrist splint or cast for 2 to 3 weeks and then return for a follow-up X-ray. Alternatively, additional imaging, such as an MRI, CT scan, or a bone scan can be performed.
It’s important to speak to your health care practitioner about your options if you are experiencing pain in the wrist after a fall. For more information about diagnostic imaging types, please visit our services page.
SPECT/CT image of scaphoid fracture
Fletcher, R. (2017) “Falls on ice seriously injure Albertans at triple the rate of people in Ontario.” CBC News. 2017, Dec. Accessed March 20, 2018.