Fixation of Wrist Fractures Treatment & Surgery

Wrist Fractures, Treatment & Surgery

The treatment that may be right for your wrist fracture depends on a variety of factors including age, past and current health, the severity of the breakage and any past reactions to various treatments or medications. Wrist fracture, which is full or partial breakage of the wrist bone, makes up approximately 16% of all fractures seen in the emergency room and is one of the most common broken bone injuries.

Wrist Fracture Diagnosis
A wrist fracture can make daily living difficult and, if not treated properly, can have lasting effects. If you have reason to believe your wrist has been broken either completely or partially, it is important to seek medical attention. To diagnose your injury, your doctor will conduct a brief exam that consists of asking questions about your trauma and performing a physical exam. These tests are typically done to determine the exact location and severity of the breakage:

  • X-Ray (Radiograph) – This is the initial test done to look for a break in the bone. It is done by sending electromagnetic radiation through the hand and wrist area, which produces images of your musculoskeletal structure in order to check if it is sound. Because bone absorbs the radiation, it stands out on the image.
  • Computed Tomography Scan (CT or CAT scan) – A CAT scan is a combination of computers and radiograph imaging and is used to determine if there are smaller pieces from the fracture or dislocations of the wrist bone. 
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) – MRIs do not use radiation, unlike X-Rays and CAT scans. Instead, you are put in a tube containing a magnetic field. Then, radio waves are directed at the hand and wrist, causing them to vibrate. These vibrations are then translated into a computer-generated image.

Nonsurgical Treatment for Wrist Fractures
A wrist fracture is one of the easiest of the bone breakages to treat without surgery. Typically, a casting method is used to immobilize the bone while it heals. In some cases, the wrist may have come out of alignment when it broke. When this happens, the doctor may use local anesthesia to realign the wrist and put it on the right track for healing.

Surgery for Wrist Fractures
In some cases, especially among the elderly, a surgery of the wrist fracture will need to be performed. The aim of most wrist fracture surgeries is to help guide the bones back into place and reconnect them. Wrist fractures are almost always treated using one of these two techniques:

  • Plate and Screws – When a surgery is required on the wrist, it is typically because there is damage that will not reconnect without the help of surgical intervention. In these situations, connecting the bones that separated during the breakage with plates and screws may be required.
  • External fixation – External fixation to realign and guide the bones during recovery is another way orthopaedic surgeons can help bones heal correctly. In these situations an external rod is used to help guide the wrist back to the correct alignment so it can heal naturally.
  • Kirschner Wire Fixation – In some rare occasions, when the wrist bones shatter, Kirschner wires, or K-wires, are used to repair the breakage.

Wrist Fracture Research
Much wrist fracture research focuses on treatment methods and the functionality of the wrist joint after breakage. While the vast majority of people who fracture their wrist make a full recovery, there are many who are left with limited mobility which can disrupt their daily living. This is particularly true in women over the age of 65 who suffer from osteoporosis and weakened bones.

In a study conducted by Northwestern University, 6,107 women aged 65 and over were identified and monitored over the course of time. Researchers monitored daily activity, such as meal preparation, housecleaning, climbing stairs, shopping and getting in and out of a car. None of these women had had prior bone injuries. Throughout the course of the study, 268 experienced a wrist fracture. Those who broke their wrist saw a significant decline in their ability to perform these daily tasks, more so than those who did not break their wrist.

Because of this prevalence of wrist fractures among older women, a focus has been put on various treatments to strengthen bone structure so daily living is not inhibited. One major focus is on selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs). While these drugs have proven to help prevent certain fractures, other major bones are still exposed to risk of breakage, so research continues to find a solution that will help treat the symptoms of osteoporosis while also treating all bone types.

As research on hormone therapy is ongoing, it is a good idea for your conversation about it with your doctor to be ongoing as well.

Rehabilitation Services
The Rehabilitation Network of the North Shore-LIJ Health System is dedicated to providing you and your family with result-oriented, comprehensive rehabilitation services. Our goal is to help you and your loved ones find relief from pain and get moving again after an accident, illness, injury or surgery. We’re your partner in a safe, healthy, more rapid recovery.

The multidisciplinary team of orthopaedic experts at North Shore-LIJ Orthopaedic Institute's Trauma Services in New York performs Wrist Fracture surgery as well as a broad range of nonsurgical and surgical treatments for conditions that affect the bones.

To learn more about fractures, visit the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).

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