A wrist fracture is a break in a wrist bone. It is often the result of a fall or trauma. The most common cause of this injury is a fall on an outstretched hand.

A wrist fracture is a break in one of the bones that form the wrist. It can happen due to an injury from a fall or when someone excessively bends or twists their wrist.

A fractured wrist is a common injury that people can often treat with splints and rest. Recovery takes about 6–8 weeks, and people should avoid heavy lifting for about 6 weeks after treatment.

Wrist fractures commonly occur in young people involved in contact sports and other activities that involve twisting or bending the wrists. However, they often happen to older adults who have fallen.

A drawing of the bones in the hand showing a distal radius fracture.Share on Pinterest
Wenzdai Figueroa

The wrist is a complex joint consisting of 8 bones that connect the two forearm bones (the radius and the ulna) to the five metacarpal bones of the hand. The wrist bones, or carpal bones, appear in two rows — the proximal and the distal rows. They include:

  • Proximal row: Scaphoid, lunate, triquetrum, and pisiform
  • Distal row: Trapezium, trapezoid, capitate, and hamate

A fracture may occur due to an injury to one or more bones in the wrist. Many different types of fractures can occur in this joint.

Learn more about fractures here.

Wrist fractures are one of the most common injuries in sports and work. They can happen with minimal force, such as when a person falls on an outstretched hand or through contact with a hard surface, or they can result from a traumatic event, such as falling from a height.

Wrist fractures often happen while actively using the arm and hand. They may happen due to sports injuries, car accidents, or other everyday accidents where the wrist bends, twists, or overextends.

A wrist fracture’s severity often depends on the size of the force that caused it. Sometimes, bones sustain a crack, and may shatter in extreme situations.

Fractures of the wrist are very common in sporting activities, especially those that involve contact with another person or a hard surface. The most common wrist bone to fracture is the radius, which surgeons call a distal radius fracture.

Although anyone can have a wrist fracture, 2022 data analysis found that older age is a major risk factor.

The analysis, involving people over 50 years old, noted that non-Hispanic white people had a higher risk of wrist fractures than others.

The analysis also found that before the age of 60, males were more likely to have a wrist fracture than females. After 60, the reverse was true. Researchers also noted the following risk factors:

A 2017 review noted that the likelihood of wrist fractures increases in women aged 65 and older due to the greater risk of osteoporosis.

Symptoms of a wrist fracture include:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • inability to move the wrist
  • numbness
  • the wrist hanging in an unnatural position

If a person experiences numbness, they should seek medical attention as soon as possible to ensure that permanent nerve damage does not occur.

To diagnose a wrist fracture, doctors may order imaging tests. X-rays can allow the doctor to see if there is a fracture in the bone. Doctors may recommend regular X-rays to monitor the healing If the fracture is mild.

Learn more about X-rays here.

Some people may require surgery, but this depends on how quickly the fracture heals and how much damage it has caused. Physical therapy can also speed up the recovery process.

Nonsurgical treatments

  • Splint: Doctors may use a splint to help the bones align and support the injured wrist.
  • Cast: Immobilization in a cast may help to keep the bones aligned correctly.

Surgical treatments

Surgical treatment for a wrist fracture typically includes placing screws and plates in the broken bones and may also include wiring or pins to hold them in place.

  • Closed reduction: Closed reduction is a technique doctors use to correct mild wrist fractures. This allows them to correct an abnormality in the bone without cutting through the skin.
  • Open reduction: This is where doctors make an incision in the skin and realign the bones through the opening.

Learn more about physical therapy here.

Recovery time could be several weeks to several months, depending on the severity of the fracture.

The pain usually subsides before the wrist has fully healed, so people should continue limiting their movement until a doctor thinks the bone is strong enough.

People may experience swelling and may find relief from elevating the wrist. Gently massaging the swollen area may also help.

It is common for people to experience stiffness and weakness after having their cast removed. They may also lose muscle strength and range of motion. Healthcare professionals will advise people on the best exercises to improve these issues.

People should abstain from contact sports for 12 weeks following a wrist fracture.

A wrist fracture is a common injury that can cause complications.

Complications of a wrist fracture include:

  • pain in the hand and arm
  • swollen fingers
  • numbness in the hand and forearm
  • loss of grip strength
  • limited range of motion in the fingers and hand
  • limited grip strength
  • decreased mobility in the fingers and hand
  • aches or pain from arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome

Splints and casts can help with the healing process, but they may also cause problems such as pressure sores or skin breakdowns.

Arthritis is a condition that occurs when the cartilage wears away in joints over time or through an injury. It can occur in any joint but is most common in the hands, wrist, and elbow.

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) suggests that eating a nutritious, balanced diet, including foods that contain calcium and vitamin D, may promote bone strength. Practicing weight-bearing exercises also strengthens bones.

Doctors may recommend regular bone density scanning if people are at higher risk of bone fractures.

People may reduce the risk of wrist fractures by wearing protective gear, such as wrist guards, and using proper technique while playing sports or performing other physical activities.

To prevent fractures, people at risk of falls could install safety features, such as handrails, in their homes.

If someone experiences pain after injuring their wrist, it is a good idea to see a doctor as soon as possible. The longer a wrist fracture remains untreated, the more likely it is to worsen and require surgery to repair.

Most fractured wrists heal completely. However, the outlook depends on the severity of the injury. If it is minor, it may heal without surgery or long-term complications. More serious fractures may require surgery to repair the damage and minimize long-term complications.

Most wrist fractures heal in 6–8 weeks with adequate care and treatment.

Wrist fractures are common injuries that can affect anyone but are common among athletes, older adults, and those with arthritis.

The most common causes of wrist fractures include falls and sports injuries. Recovery time varies depending on the severity of the fracture but is typically 6–8 weeks.