When Does a Broken Wrist Need Surgery?

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A broken wrist is a fairly common injury, but when it comes to treating one, the course of action isn’t always clear. Depending on the severity of the break, your doctor may recommend either conservative treatment or surgery. So how do you know when surgery may be necessary? Let’s take a look at what you need to know about broken wrists and when surgery may be recommended. 

Causes of a Broken Wrist

While causes may vary depending on the individual case, some common sources of wrist fractures include fall accidents, sports-related injuries, car accidents, and even repetitive motions over time. 

When Does a Broken Wrist Require Surgery? 

Wrist fractures are a common injury and can be quite concerning due to the complexity of the eight individual carpal bones making up the wrist joint.  These carpal bones are essential for proper hand and wrist movement, and they play an important role in the overall strength and stability of the wrist. 

When a broken wrist occurs, the severity of the injury determines if surgery is necessary for a full recovery. Fractures may be simple or complex, depending on how many bones are involved and if there is any pulling or separating of bone fragments. In some cases, realignment must also be done in order to get the bones back into their proper position. 

Injuries to the Wrist That May Require Surgery

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An Open Fracture: If you have an open fracture (also known as a compound fracture), where the bone has broken through the skin, then surgery may be necessary to repair the break and prevent infection. An open fracture requires careful cleaning of the wound and possibly antibiotics to prevent infection. Additionally, hardware such as pins, plates, or screws might need to be inserted into the bone in order to align it correctly while it heals. 

An Unstable Fracture: If a fracture is considered unstable, it means that it will not heal correctly without surgical intervention. This type of fracture can occur in any area of the body but is particularly common in wrists due to their complex anatomy. An unstable fracture will require surgery to avoid further complications such as displacement or joint damage. 

Displaced Fractures: A displaced fracture occurs when the two broken pieces of bone are out of alignment with each other and need to be realigned by a doctor. Displaced fractures may require surgery in order for them to heal correctly and restore normal movement and function in the affected area.  

When Bone Pieces Move Before They Heal: If you have a fracture in which your bone pieces move before they heal, then surgery may also be required in order to realign them properly. If a fractured bone moves too much during healing, it can cause additional pain, loss of motion, or other complications. Therefore, your doctor may recommend that you undergo surgical treatment if there is significant movement of your bones before they heal. 

Loose Bone Fragments: Loose bone fragments are pieces of bone that have become detached from the main breakage site and are now floating freely within soft tissues like tendons, ligaments, or joint capsules. These fragments need to be removed during surgery as they could lead to further complications if left untreated such as damage to joints or muscles over time.  

Damage to Surrounding Ligaments, Nerves, or Blood Vessels: If there is significant damage to any surrounding ligaments, nerves, or blood vessels due to your broken wrist, then surgery may be required in order to repair them as well as provide stability for your joint while it heals. This type of surgery is often done via arthroscopy (a minimally invasive procedure) so that scarring is kept to a minimum and healing time is accelerated. 

Fractures That Extend Into A Joint: When fractures extend into a joint such as one between two bones in your arm or hand, then surgical intervention might be needed in order for proper healing to occur without causing further damage over time due to movement within the joint itself.

Conservative Treatment vs. Surgery 

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Generally speaking, conservative treatment is the first line of defense against a broken wrist—meaning that if there are no complications present and the bones have not shifted significantly out of place, your doctor will likely recommend setting the bone in a cast followed by physical therapy to regain full movement. However, if the bones have shifted out of place significantly or there are other underlying issues such as nerve or tendon damage due to the fracture, then surgery may be necessary. 

Surgical Repair Options for Broken Wrists 

The type of surgical procedure performed on a broken wrist depends on several factors such as age, activity level, and severity of the fracture. Generally speaking, there are three main types of surgeries used to treat broken wrists: open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF), joint fusion (arthrodesis), and external fixation. 

Open Reduction Internal Fixation (ORIF)

This is one of the most common surgical procedures used to repair broken wrists. During this surgery, bone fragments are re-aligned and held in place by metal plates and screws. This helps provide stability so that the bone can heal properly. ORIF is usually recommended when the fracture is complex or involves multiple bones. It can also be used if a cast or splint is not enough to promote proper healing. 

Intramedullary Nailing (or Rodding) 

Another procedure used to treat broken wrists is intramedullary nailing or rodding. During this surgery, a metal rod is inserted into the center of your arm bone so that it can support and hold the fractured pieces together as they heal. This procedure is generally recommended for fractures that involve only one bone, such as those caused by falling on an outstretched arm. It is more invasive than ORIF but generally provides better results in terms of healing time and minimizing pain during recovery.

Joint Fusion

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Joint Fusion, also known as Arthrodesis, is another type of surgical treatment for a broken wrist that involves fusing together two bones in order to eliminate movement between them. This type of surgery can be used when other forms of internal fixation are not possible due to extensive damage or instability at the fracture site. The goal of this procedure is to reduce pain and restore function by eliminating movement between two bones while still allowing some degree of motion in nearby joints. 

Arthroscopic Surgery 

For less serious injuries and fractures, arthroscopic surgery may be recommended. This type of procedure involves making small incisions in order to insert an arthroscope - a device with a camera on its end - into the joint in order to visualize what's going on inside it without having to make large incisions. Through these tiny incisions, instruments can be inserted and used to repair any damage found inside the joint such as torn ligaments or damaged cartilage.           

External Fixation Surgery 

External fixation surgery is another option when treating broken wrists. It is commonly used when multiple fractures require stabilization or if there is significant soft tissue damage that needs repair along with bone fracture stabilization. During this type of surgery, pins are placed through the skin and into the bone on either side of the fracture site and then connected outside of your body with a rod-like device that helps keep everything stabilized. 

Bone Grafting

In some cases, a bone graft may also be necessary when treating a fractured radius bone due to the disruption caused by the break. Bone grafts involve taking healthy bone from another part of your body or using donor tissue to help promote healing in the fracture site. The use of a graft reduces complications such as non-union (failure to heal) or mal-union (healing in an improper position) as well as improving the stability of the fracture site. 

How Long Does Wrist Surgery Take? 

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Wrist surgery can reduce pain, resolve a fracture and improve function in the arm. The length of the procedure depends on the severity of the fracture and type of procedure. For example, an open reduction with internal fixation (ORIF) procedure can take significantly more time than a more simple surgery. This method is often used to treat more severe fractures, with the entire process taking around 30-90 minutes, where anesthesia is administered regionally or through general sedation. While some surgeries require extended hospital stays, ORIF wrist surgery is usually performed as an outpatient procedure, allowing you to return home on the same day. 

Do You Need a Cast After Wrist Surgery?

After wrist fracture surgery, it is likely your surgeon will provide a specific type of wrist support for several weeks in order to protect the newly repaired bone and support it during its healing process. Depending on your current condition and the recommended route of treatment, this may include a cast, a brace, or a splint. Wearing the suggested cast or brace is essential for allowing your wrist to heal in an appropriate amount of time and can even help with reducing discomfort as you recuperate. Seeking guidance from your surgeon and following any treatment plans provided will ensure that you recover quickly and effectively.

How Long Is Recovery After Wrist Surgery?

Recovery time after wrist surgery varies greatly depending on the severity of the injury being treated. For most wrist surgeries, full recovery could take anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks to achieve. During this time it is important to follow a doctor's instructions carefully, which usually involves reducing movement or wearing a cast or splint for some period of the recovery time. 

Learn More: Broken Arm Healing Time 

Cast21 Alternative Provides Wrist Support After Surgery

Nurse adjusting Cast21 on patient's wrist

Recovering from wrist surgery can be a daunting and uncomfortable experience, however, Cast21 may just be the perfect solution for those seeking wrist support and pain relief as they recover. Our lightweight lattice sleeve is not only strong but also very comfortable, mitigating much of the discomfort one would expect from a traditional plaster cast. Not only that, our quick-setting formula used to create the Cast21 sleeve means patients aren’t stuck waiting for the cast to dry. Furthermore, the waterproof nature of Cast21 gives patients peace of mind when showering or bathing—there’s no more worrying about getting your cast wet! In short, Cast21 has revolutionized post-surgery wrist support by providing unparalleled comfort and convenience.

If you are interested in getting Cast21, contact your local doctor to see if it is an appropriate part of your treatment plan. You can also contact us to see if there is a clinic in your area that offers our product.

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