Whats The Difference Between A Wrist Fracture Vs Broken Bone
When you hear the words fractured bone or broken bone what youre really hearing are different terms with the same meaning. A fractured bone and a broken bone are the same. A fracture is a technical terminology a physician uses to describe an injury to the bone, while a broken bone is a common layperson way of describing an injury to a bone.
Some think of a fracture as less severe than a broken bone, but technically thats not the case. Physicians use words like displaced, malaligned, or angulated to describe a fracture thats not in its normal position. At the end of the day, a fractured bone and a broken bone are one and the same and can be used interchangeably.
Diagnosing A Wrist Injury
When you injure your wrist, your doctor will ask you to describe how the injury occurred and perform a physical examination. Common physical tests during the examination could include:
- Inspecting for deformity, bruising, swelling, and lacerations
- Palpating the critical structures to assess the location of the injury
- Testing your joints to assess their stability
Based on the exam, your doctor may then order an x-ray. An x-ray is needed to decipher between a sprain and a fracture in most situations. If the x-ray appears normal but your symptoms are severe and persistent, your doctor may order additional tests such as a CT scan or an MRI. Rarely would a bone scan would be needed.
Its important to note that fractures of the scaphoid can masquerade as a sprain. This is because sometimes scaphoid fractures arent as painful as distal radius fractures . Your practitioner should check the scaphoid for tenderness and if theres any suspicion, then special x-rays, a CT scan, an MRI, or early follow up and recheck are necessary.
What To Look For
In general, fractures usually result in more bleeding, swelling, and bruising than a sprain. If the pieces of the broken bone move against each other, youll feel or hear a crunching or grinding sound that goes along with excruciating pain when you try to move the wrist.
Lots of patients have told me that when they sprained their wrists, there was some swelling and some pain, but it went away pretty quickly. The pain from a broken wrist usually doesnt go away very quickly.
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Dont Ignore Wrist Injuries
Wrist fractures, like essentially all broken bones are best treated when treated early. This may be as simple and putting a brace on, which will immobilize and protect the bone easing the pain and preventing displacement.
Some fractures, like the scaphoid fracture, have poor outcomes when treated late. Due to its unique blood supply, scaphoid fractures have higher risk of non-healing or nonunion than other wrist bones. When this bone does not heal, it will, overtime, develop a predictable pattern of wrist arthritis.
Athletic Tape Vs Kinesio Tape
Athletic tape and kinesiology tape are similar, although its important to understand their differences to make the best use of them.
Athletic tape is wrapped around the wrist injury and limits movement. It is the more straightforward of the two options, with no adhesive backing and limited to no elasticity. Since it is not as flexible, it is a good choice for short-term recovery, early in the healing process.
With an adhesive backing, highly elastic material, and many different types to choose from, kinesio tape offers plenty of unique benefits. Since it doesnt restrict movement, its a good option for athletes or those who want to stay active during their recovery.
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Diagnosing A Wrist Fracture
What You Can Do For Your Wrist Pain
The best treatments for wrist pain are prevention, rest and support to your wrist. Wrist splints and braces that support, stabilize and protect can be worn to give your wrist time to heal.
Splints that can help include the ultra light Fix Comfort Wrist Brace with tri layer foam cushioning offers excellent wrist support without bulkiness to relieve symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and to rest and heal ligament injuries.
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Home Remedies For A Sprained Wrist
At home, you can treat a mild wrist sprain with the RICE method:
- Rest. Avoid using your wrist for 48 hours. Try not to do activities that involve your wrist, like writing with a pen.
- Ice. Apply an ice pack for 20 minutes, two or three times each day. Never use ice without wrapping it first, as this can damage your skin.
- Compression. Wrap a compression bandage around your wrist to minimize swelling.
- Elevation. Keeping your wrist above your heart will also help swelling.
Most Common Types Of Fractures For A Broken Wrist
Most of the time, a fracture of the wrist is very painful with movement and to touch and gets very swollen very fast. The most common type of wrist fracture is a distal radius fracture.
The 2nd most common type of fracture in the wrist is a scaphoid fracture, one of the carpal bones located at the base of the thumb. This fracture is sometimes difficult to see on an x-ray and takes a long time to heal due to the poor blood supply it receives.
If you have tenderness at the base of your thumb that doesn’t seem to go away, it would be wise to seek further evaluation from an orthopedic doctor.
Anatomy of Hand – Sprained Wrist vs Broken
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Is My Wrist Broken Or Sprained
It is a natural instinct to put out a hand and to try to catch oneself during a fall. This impulse is the cause for nearly all wrist sprains and fractures. Medical professionals even have an acronym for this mechanism of injury: FOOSH stands for fall on outstretched hand.
When a wrist injury occurs, it can be difficult to determine what type of injury has occurred. Most frequently, the resulting wrist injury is either a sprain or fracture.
What Is The Physiological Difference Between A Wrist Sprain And A Broken Wrist
The wrist is anatomically complex. A wrist sprain occurs when a ligament in the wrist is injured. Ligaments are bands of connective tissue that stretch from one bone to another. Wrist sprains typically involve stretching or tearing a ligament.
In contrast, a broken wrist occurs when you actually fracture a bone in the wrist. The wrist consists of 13 different bones, and any of these could be fractured during an injury. This could be as small as a hairline fracture in the bone, but a broken wrist can cause major pain.
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What Are The Types Of Hand Fractures
Bones are rigid structures but not so rigid that they cant bend a little. However, if the force is too great, the bone will develop a fracture and then break. That force determines how bad the fracture is, from a hairline crack to shattering the bone.
Bones can be broken in several different ways. Some of the types of hand fractures that can occur include:
- Comminuted fractures occur when the bone is shattered into three or more pieces under the skin
- Compound fractures are bones that are so broken they stick out of the skin
- Greenstick fractures have a partial break on one side of the bone, which can occur because the rest of the bone can bend to withstand the pressure
- Impacted fractures occur when one bone is broken but it pushes into another bone
- Intra articular fractures of bones of the hand occur when the break extends into the surface of a joint
- Longitudinal fractures run the entire length of the particular bone impacted
- Pathological fractures occur when the bones are weakened by an underlying condition that results in the fracture, like osteoporosis
- Spiral fractures indicate at least one part of the bone has been twisted
- Stable fractures are when the two broken parts of the bones line up and are barely out of place
- Stress fractures are common in athletes whose repeated pressure on their bones cause it to simply give way
You can also have a fracture dislocation when the hand is broken but a joint is also dislocated.
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What Is A Colles Fracture
A Colles fracture or distal radius fracture is often called a broken wrist. In France itâs sometimes called a âPouteau-Collesâ fracture. Technically, its a break in the larger of the two bones in your forearm. The bone breaks on the lower end, close to where it connects to the bones of the hand on the thumb side of the wrist.
Collesfractures are very common theyre the most frequently broken bone in the arm. In the United States, 1 of every 10 broken bones is a broken wrist.
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How To Heal A Sprained Wrist
It is possible for mild wrist sprains to be self-treated at home. The recommendation for sprained wrist treatment is rest, ice, compression, and elevation . Aspirin or ibuprofen can also help minimize swelling. If swelling doesnt go down in 48 hours or the sprain doesnt resolve in two to three days, you should call your hand and wrist specialist.
- Rest: Avoid using the wrist for at least two days.
- Ice: Ice the injury right away and continue applying ice a few times a day for 20 minutes each time.
- Compression: A compression bandage is how to wrap a sprained wrist. It can be used to minimize swelling and provide wrist support.
- Elevation: Elevate your wrist above your heart.
Medical treatment is recommended for moderate and severe sprains. Splints are typically used for moderate sprains. Severe sprains may need surgery in order to connect the ligament to the bone or to reconstruct the ligament.
What Are Casts And Splints
Casts and splints are orthopedic devices that are used to protect and support broken or injured bones and joints. They help to immobilize the injured limb to keep the bone in place until it fully heals.
Casts differ from splints because they provide more support and protection for a limb that is injured or broken. They are made from materials like plaster or fiberglass that can be easily molded to the shape of the injured arm or leg.
Splints, also known as half-casts, provide less support than casts, but are faster and easier to use. They also can be tightened or loosened easily if the swelling in the arm or leg increases or decreases.
Ready-made or off-the-shelf splints are available in many different sizes and shapes. In some cases, custom-designed splints must be used. Velcro straps make it easier for the patient or healthcare provider to put the splint on or take it off.
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The Difference Between A Broken Or Sprained Wrist
A sprain involves the ligaments that connect the bones at the joint. It can be difficult to tell the difference between a fracture and a sprain. You should not assume that the degree of pain determines the specific problem.
Although it would seem that a sprain would hurt less than a fracture, this is not always the case. Sprains can often be extremely painful, where fractures may sometimes hurt less. There are also different degrees of sprains from mild to severe.
A broken or sprained wrist may have many of the same symptoms:
- Swelling in your wrist or hand
- Pain, especially when you move your wrist
- Difficulty picking up objects
- Limited range of motion
However, if youve fractured your wrist, there are a few symptoms that go beyond sprains. There may be a deformity in the wrist and bone pushing against the skin or sometimes puncturing it. When you fall and hurt your wrists, you might hear a snap or pop and your wrist will usually swell immediately and worsen, even when treated with ice.
The best way to know for certain if your wrist is fractured or sprained is to see a hand surgery specialist. They can do a thorough assessment and diagnose what is causing your pain.
“Many wrist fractures do not require surgery, and can be adequately treated in a cast or brace. “Brandon P. Donnelly, MD
Treatment For A Sprained Wrist
For a sprained wrist, the best treatment is to use the RICE method:
Rest: An injury needs healing, a sprained wrist wont heal in motion. Avoid moving your hand as much as possible.
Ice: Ice will help with the swelling because it helps remove excess heat from your wrist which presents itself after an injury. Ice will also decrease swelling and pain.
Compression: Wrapping up your wrist provides support and prevents swelling from building up.
Elevation: Keeping your wrist in an elevated position will help your body absorb the extra fluid that gets caused by excess swelling. You should place your calf on an arm sling. Your wrist should be at an equal level with your heart. Your wrist should also be free and not compressed while elevated.
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Bones Of The Wrist And Hand
There are eight small carpal bones in the wrist that connect to the hand and the forearm. These bones manage hand movement. If you cant move your fingers, its a likely indicator that the wrist is broken.
Ligaments stretch between these carpal bones, connecting one to another. Strain or tearing of the ligament is often what causes pain and swelling in a sprain.
Different Types Of Wrist Fractures
Wrist fractures are common and usually happen if you put your hands out to protect yourself when you trip or fall. Treatment for a wrist fracture can vary depending on the severity and the type of fracture. An orthopedic surgeon will be able to recommend the appropriate treatment to ensure a successful recovery from a wrist fracture.
A broken wrist usually causes immediate pain, swelling, and tenderness, and there may be bruising or discoloration to the affected area. In some cases, there may also be an obvious deformity. If you experience severe pain, have an open fracture , if the wrist area is deformed or numb, or if the fingers are no longer pink, you should seek immediate medical treatment.
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Diagnosis And Treatment: How Dr Knight Can Help
A physical examination from the doctor, combined with a detailed medical history, may be enough to diagnose the injury however, an x-ray is deemed the gold standard to identify a fracture. That said, some smaller breaks e.g., a scaphoid fracture may take up to two weeks to appear on an x-ray, complicating diagnosis in the emergency room or urgent care immediately after the injury. In these cases, an MRI or CT scan, which elucidate damage to the soft tissues of the joint, can improve diagnosis.
Treatment for wrist sprains and fractures may be non-surgical or surgical. Immobilization with a splint or cast is common for milder fractures, while various surgical techniques such as the use of pins to fix fractured bone segments together may be needed for complex or severe breaks.
Wrist sprains seldom require surgery, but they can be tricky and often cause much more damage than is apparent. The use of ice, compression, and splinting can go a long way for milder sprains, but a full tear of a ligament will require surgical repair.
It is important for both injuries to be treated as soon and as comprehensively as possible to avoid any lasting, chronic pain or malformation of the joint. Dr. Knight is one of the premier national wrist specialists with extensive experience in non-surgical and surgical treatment of the wrist. For a deep dive on the treatments offered by Dr. Knight for each injury, see the wrist sprain, wrist fracture, and scaphoid fracture pages.
Can You Move Your Wrist With A Hairline Fracture
You can move the wrist with a hairline fracture but it is typically not recommended. It also depends on the location of the fracture and it severity. Immobilization is typically recommended to prevent healing complications. If you have persistent wrist pain that wont go away, you should be evaluated by an orthopedic hand specialist.
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