The upper extremity (arm) is made up of three bones.
- The ulna is one of the bones in the bottom part of your forearm (ending in the wrist).
- The radius is the other bone in the bottom part of your forearm (ending in the wrist).
- The humerus is the bone on the top part of your arm. It is the largest bone in the arm.
- The wrist is made up of eight small bones (carpal bones), the radius and the ulna.
Broken bones are also called fractures. The different types of fractures are:
- Open fractures, also called compound fractures, are those where the broken bone comes through the skin. Fractures are also called open or compound where a skin wound extends down to the broken bone.
- Closed fractures are those where the skin over the broken bone remains intact.
- Displaced fractures are when the ends of the broken bone are not lined up straight.
- Comminuted fractures occur when the bone is broken into several pieces.
- Greenstick fractures occur when the bone bends and cracks, but does not break completely.
- Buckle or torus fractures occur when one side of the bone is compressed and causes the other side to bend.
Greenstick and buckle fractures are more common in children because their bones are softer and bend easier than the bones of an adult.
Some common ways that people break one of the bones in their wrist include:
- Falling (especially falling onto an outstretched hand)
- Playing sports
- Major trauma (such as during a car accident)
There are medical conditions, such as osteoporosis, that can increase your risk of a broken bone. A break in one of the bones in your wrist may result in a snap or cracking sound followed by:
- Pain that increases with movement
- Difficulty moving your wrist
In severe cases, the wrist is in an abnormal position (displaced fracture) or the bone breaks through the skin (open fracture).
Contact your healthcare provider if you think you may have broken your wrist. A broken bone requires prompt evaluation and treatment to make sure the bone is aligned and heals properly. He or she will:
- Take a medical history
- Do a physical exam that focuses on the affected wrist
- Possibly order x-rays of your wrist
Treatment for a broken wrist will depend on the type and location of the break. Depending on the severity of the break, you may be referred to an orthopedic surgeon for evaluation and treatment.
- In some cases, a simple break can be treated with immobilization and ice to help decrease swelling. You may need to wear a sling, splint or other device to restrict movement for a few weeks. This will allow the fracture time to heal.
- You will likely be given some medications to decrease pain and swelling. This may be an over-the-counter pain reliever. If you have significant pain, for a day or two you may need a prescription for a stronger pain reliever.
- If a fracture is displaced, your healthcare provider may need to put the bones back into proper alignment (reduction of fracture). This can be painful and may require medication or anesthesia before the reduction is performed.
- A break that is severe, open, displaced or results in a bone being “shattered” may need surgery. This can help put the bones in proper alignment and promote healing. Surgery usually involves using wires, plates, nails or screws to hold the bone in the correct position while it heals.
- Physical or occupational therapy may be needed to help the wrist return to normal and decrease the chance of future problems.
- If you are at risk for osteoporosis, tests may be ordered to see if your fracture could be related to osteoporosis.
The costs associated with this care path are for a broken arm treated in an emergency room.
If you decide to go to the emergency room (ER), it may be helpful if you:
- Bring a copy of your medical history (past illnesses, surgeries, and hospitalizations)
- Bring a list of your medications (including over-the-counter)
- Provide details about how you injured your wrist
- Write down any questions, symptoms or concerns you want to talk about
Here are some questions to ask your ER healthcare provider:
- What are my treatment options?
- What are my follow-up options? When should that follow-up occur? Do I need to see a surgeon or other specialist? Are there any alternatives?
- Are you recommending any tests? Will the test results change my treatment plan? If not, why do I need the test?
- When might I start to see improvement in my symptoms?
- What symptoms should I report before my next appointment?
After your appointment, you should also understand your treatment plan, possible alternatives, and what medications are recommended (including possible side effects). Get a written copy of the information you were given and ask that a copy be sent to your primary care provider (PCP).