A broken wrist is a common injury that can be very painful, but the body's response to a broken bone is amazing. The healing process usually starts within hours of the injury and can take several months to complete.
In this guide, we will provide tips and advice for patients who are recovering from a broken wrist. We will cover everything from learning how bones heal to methods used to treat wrist fractures and offer ways to reduce pain and inflammation. Follow these tips, and you will be on your way to a successful recovery!
The wrist is made up of eight small bones that form a bridge between the hand and the forearm. These bones are held together by ligaments, and the joints are protected by cartilage. A wrist fracture is a break in any of the bones of the wrist, but most commonly, the radius. The medical term for this type of broken wrist is a distal radius fracture.
A wrist fracture can occur when there is a force applied to the wrist that is greater than what the bones can withstand. For example, a fall onto an outstretched hand or a direct blow to the wrist can cause a fracture and cause pain, limited mobility, and decreased grip strength.
Wrist fractures can vary in severity from a hairline crack in the bone to a complete break into multiple pieces. They may involve one or more of the bones in the wrist, and they may be displaced or non-displaced. Learn more about the different types of wrist fractures.
The process of healing a broken bone is complex and gradual, involving different phases that can take weeks or even months to complete.
Inflammatory Phase: the first phase, known as the inflammatory phase, begins immediately after the injury and lasts around 1-2 weeks. During this time, the body begins to repair the damage. Blood vessels that were damaged around the fracture site form a clot. This helps to protect the bone ends and also provides nutrients for the healing process. The body also begins to clean up damaged tissue during this phase.
Repair Phase: the next phase, known as the repair phase, typically lasts around 2-3 weeks. During this time, new cells of bone, cartilage, and fibrous tissue are generated at the fracture site. These cells coalesce to form a rubbery tissue known as a “fracture callus.” The calcium in the callus helps hold on to the bones as they reform, strengthening it and beginning a process that will eventually secure them into place.
Remodeling: the remodeling phase can take several months to complete. This is when the callus is gradually replaced by new bone tissue, continuing to strengthen the broken bones and allowing them to heal completely.
Although it can take several months for a wrist injury to fully heal, this process is an amazing example of the human body's ability to repair itself.
Wrist fractures often heal in 4-6 weeks. However, some complex fractures may require surgery to heal properly. In addition, older adults and people with health conditions that weaken bones may take longer to heal from a wrist fracture.
During this time, it’s important to avoid putting weight on the injured bone or doing any other activity that could delay healing.
The goal of fracture treatment is to restore the normal alignment of the bone so that the fracture heals in the correct position. Your doctor will determine the best course of treatment based on the type of fracture you have sustained.
Nonsurgical treatment for wrist fractures are common in non-displaced or minimally displaced fractures.
Closed reduction: Once the decision has been made to treat a fracture non-surgically, the next step is to carefully align the bone fragments and reduce or “set” the fracture. This is generally done under anesthesia, as it can be quite painful.
Immobilization: Once the fracture is reduced, it is immobilized by wearing a cast, splint, or brace. The goal of immobilization is to keep the bone fragments in alignment while they heal. Depending on the type of fracture, immobilization may be required for several weeks or months. If you do not keep your wrist immobilized, you may experience ongoing pain, stiffness, and a reduced range of motion. Additionally, you may put yourself at risk of re-injuring your wrist.
Physical Therapy: Once the bone has healed, physical therapy may be necessary to regain full range of motion and strength.
The goal of surgery is to provide stability and support for the injured bone so that it can heal properly. This is especially true for displaced or unstable fractures where surgery is necessary to correct the position of the bone and prevent long-term problems. The type of surgery performed will depend on the severity of the fracture and the individual patient's situation.
Internal Fixation: also referred to as open reduction internal fixation (ORIF) is one type of surgical treatment for a broken wrist. During this procedure, the bones are realigned and held in place with metal pins, plates and screws that are inserted into the bone.
External fixation: in this procedure, metal pins or screws are inserted into the bones above and below the break. The pins or screws are then attached to a metal frame that patients wear outside of the body. The frame stabilizes the bone and prevents it from moving so that it can heal properly. External fixation is often used for complex fractures that cannot be treated with traditional methods of wearing a splint or cast.
Recovery from surgery can take several weeks, but it is important to follow the doctor’s orders to ensure a successful outcome. With proper treatment, most people make a full recovery from a distal radius fracture.
Although the body is well equipped to handle the healing process on its own, there are certain things that you can do to help or speed up fracture healing, reduce swelling, and restore range of motion.
During the recovery process, it is important to relieve pain effectively to ensure that the bone heals correctly. There are a variety of ways to do this, including over-the-counter painkillers, using an ice pack, and elevating your wrist.
Eating a well-balanced diet is important for overall health, but it is especially important if you have a fracture. Protein and vitamins C, D, and K are all essential for fracture healing. Calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc are all elements needed for bone formation and to accelerate the healing process. Eating foods rich in these nutrients can help your body heal more quickly.
Some pain medications such as Ibuprofen can inhibit the early phase of fracture healing, delaying union and increasing the risk of potential complications. If you take medication that slows blood clotting, be sure to talk to your healthcare professional before taking anything that could further interfere with healing.
Similarly, smoking and excess alcohol consumption has been shown to have a negative impact on fracture healing¹, so it is best to avoid these substances if you are trying to heal a broken bone.
Physical therapy can help to stretch and strengthen the muscles and tissues around the wrist, which can ease pain, reduce swelling and promote healing. Follow your doctor's instructions for physical therapy and rehabilitation exercises.
When healing from distal radius fractures, avoid activities that put stress on the wrist, such as lifting heavy objects or participating in contact sports.
Follow-up appointments with your doctor are important to ensure that your broken wrist is healing properly. If you have any concerns during your recovery, be sure to bring them up at your next physical exam.
For people who have suffered a broken bone, the healing process can be extremely painful and frustrating. But with a Cast21 alternative, the recovery process is much easier. Cast21 creates waterproof, breathable, and comfortable casts that are easy to apply and remove. As a result, patients can enjoy the healing process and get back to their normal activities more quickly. If you or someone you know is dealing with a broken wrist, Cast21 can help you recover with less hassle.
Cast21 is here to help you get on the road to recovery! Please don't hesitate to get in touch with us if you have any questions or would like more information on how Cast21 can help make the recovery process easier.