Updated October 6, 2022
Car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, and other traumatic events can cause the bones in the wrist to crack or shatter.
In car crashes, a wrist fracture may be caused by locking the joint while bracing against the steering wheel, the airbag slamming into the hand, or a loose object flying around the vehicle.
Wrist fractures may also occur when a motorcyclist, bicycle rider, or pedestrian attempts to catch themselves with an outstretched hand or land roughly after being struck by a vehicle.
An injured wrist can impact many daily functions, such as driving, working, typing, and writing. If you believe your wrist has been injured after a fall or accident, see a doctor right away.
Let’s take a look at wrist fracture types, symptoms, and healing time.
Anatomy of the Wrist
The wrist is made up of eight small, interconnected bones called carpal bones. These link up to the two forearm bones called the radius and ulna. A broken wrist can affect any 10 of these bones. The most commonly injured wrist bone is the scaphoid bone beneath the thumb.
Fractured Wrist vs Broken Wrist
A wrist fracture is the common medical term used to refer to a broken wrist. They are essentially the same thing.
Fractured Wrist vs Sprained Wrist
The instinct to catch ourselves when we fall or grab onto something to brace ourselves is deeply embedded into our psyche. Medical professionals even have an acronym for it: FOOSH. It stands for: Fall On OutStretched Hand.
A broken wrist means a bone is cracked or fractured. A sprain, on the other hand, happens when fibrous ligament tissue that holds the bones together is stretched or torn.
Wrist sprains are typically caused by an injury to the scapholunate ligament. This ligament connects the scaphoid and lunate bones, which sit at the bottom of the wrist.
Pain is not always a good indicator of whether a wrist is broken or sprained. Fractures can cause mild or dull pain while some sprains can radiate terrible pain.
So how can you tell if your wrist is fractured or just sprained?
Because the symptoms of a fractured or sprained wrist are so similar, it is vital to see a doctor for the correct diagnosis to get the best medical care possible.
Wrist Fracture Symptoms
Pain and swelling are the most common sign that a wrist is broken. A bone knocked out of place can make the wrist appear deformed. It can be difficult, but not impossible, to move or use the hand and wrist. Other fractured wrist symptoms include:
- Numbness or tingling in the fingers
- Severe pain when moving, gripping, or squeezing
If the bone is pushing through the skin or exposed, it is imperative the injured person receive surgical intervention immediately. Trying to treat a wrist fracture at home can result in deformity, weakness, an inability to use the hand, and infection.
Types of Wrist Fractures
Certain types of broken wrists are more severe. Because there are so many small bones in the wrist area, treatment and healing can be a complicated process.
Stable Wrist Fracture
Wrist fractures that are stable (or non-displaced) mean the bones have not moved out of place.
Unstable Wrist Fracture
Displaced or unstable breaks require the bones to be set; once they are stable, the wrist can be fitted with a cast or splint. Sometimes the unstable wrist bones, even if they are placed back into the correct position, may shift before they completely heal. This can cause the wrist to appear crooked.
An unstable fracture. The surface of the joint is cracked or the joint itself is shattered into two or more pieces. This is a severe type of fractured wrist that often requires surgery.
Open wrist fractures occur when a bone fragment pierces through the skin. The surrounding tissue is at a heightened risk of an infection of the bone if not properly treated.
Distal Radius Fracture
One of the most common wrist bones to break is the radius, the largest bone in the forearm. The end of the radius bone, called the distal end, connects to the wrist. When a fracture breaks the bone at the distal end, usually about one inch from the end of the bone, it’s called a distal radius fracture. The types of fractures that can affect the distal radius include intra-articular (the break extends into the wrist joint) and extra-articular (the break does not affect the wrist joint).
The scaphoid bone sits just above the radius bone and below the thumb. The symptoms of a scaphoid break are sometimes confused with a wrist sprain. Signs of a fractured scaphoid include dull or deep pain on the thumb side, swelling at the base of the thumb, or pain that gets worse when pinching or gripping something.
Wrist Fracture From Airbag Deployment
Injuries to the hand, wrist, and forearm caused by airbags are not uncommon. Most injuries are minor, with bruises, abrasions, and sprains commonly reported. In unusual circumstances, hand and wrist fractures are sustained in a crash.
How the hands are positioned at the moment of impact during a crash can play a significant role in the types of hand injuries sustained.
Hands and arms laid across, at the top, or in front of the steering wheel are more likely to suffer serious fractures when the airbag deploys. The blast of the steering wheel’s airbag can fling the hand and forearm into the side panel, rearview mirror, or windshield.
But it’s not just the airbag in the steering wheel that can inadvertently cause harm. Wrist injuries can also occur when the airbag modules in the vehicle’s doors deploy, striking a person on their side even as they cushion them against the full impact of the crash.
Drivers can reduce the risk of injury to their wrists and upper limbs by keeping their hands at the 9 o’clock (middle left) and 3 o’clock (middle right) of the steering wheel. When turning, avoid crossing your arms as you rotate the steering wheel; instead, skim your hands along the wheel’s underside, passing sections of the wheel from one hand to the other.
Read More: Types of Airbag Injuries After a Crash
Broken Wrist Treatment
Treatment for a wrist fracture will depend on how much damage the bones and joints suffered. The best thing to do is to see a doctor or hand surgeon.
They will do a physical exam and take X-rays to see if there are any broken bones. A CT scan or MRI may be necessary to see more details regarding the fracture, fragments, and soft tissue damage. Ligaments, tendons, muscles, and nerves may have also been injured during the wreck and will require careful treatment as well.
Other factors that will influence the type of treatment received for a wrist fracture include:
- Type of fracture (stable, unstable, or open)
- Age, job, hobbies, and whether the wrist belongs to your dominant hand
- Overall health
- Other present injuries
If a wrist fracture is unstable, there are three main treatment options to alleviate the pain.
Padded splints can be used to align the bones and provide support to the wrist. A cast and sling may be used to hold a fracture in place after it has been set and the swelling has gone down.
But sometimes the damage is so severe that surgery is required to put the wrist bones back together.
The technical term for the surgical process is “reduction.” If a bone is straightened without having to open the skin, it is called a “closed reduction.”
A surgeon may use metal pins, screws, plates, rods, or an external fixator to hold the joints in the correct place. A wrist that has been crushed and repaired might have a gap in between the joints. A bone graft can be added to facilitate healing.
A doctor may closely monitor a fracture by taking regular X-rays. Casts are often removed after about six weeks from the date the fracture happened.
Talk to your hand surgeon to discuss all your options and what is best for you and your recovery.
How Long a Fractured Wrist Takes to Heal
The recovery time for a broken wrist depends on the severity of the break. While the wrist begins to heal, it is important to keep the fingers moving so they don’t become stiff. A hand surgeon will determine when it is the right time to start moving the wrist.
Complications, while rare, may include:
- Permanent stiffness, pain, or disability
- Nerve or blood vessel damage that can cause numbness or circulation issues
A broken wrist’s recovery time often lasts many months, with stiffness and aches reoccurring long after. Hand therapy can be helpful in recovering strength, motion, and dexterity.
Stay patient and remain in touch with your physician to talk about any issues that arise.
Car Accident Compensation for Broken Wrists
A wrist fracture caused by a car accident is a serious injury. Our law firm has helped many people with fractured wrists find treatment at no cost to themselves. You don’t have to worry about the cost of multiple X-rays or surgery — we make sure the at-fault driver’s insurance company takes care of those expenses.
If your wrist was broken or injured by a negligent driver, talk to Gary Martin Hays & Associates today to get the car accident settlement you need and deserve. Contact us today for a free, confidential consultation regarding your rights.