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Breaking your fall: What you need to know about wrist fractures

People who slip and fall on a slick surface in a Georgia restaurant, store or other commercial establishment will probably throw out a hand to try to catch themselves. This is the most common response, and Johns Hopkins Medicine notes that it is the reason that distal radius fractures occur more than any other broken bone.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons explains that when someone falls on a hand, the arm bone known as the radius is most likely to break about an inch from the wrist joint. However, the break could extend into the wrist joint. The bone could also break in more than one place, or break the skin. If a piece of the bone completely breaks away, or if the bone protrudes from the skin, treatment is more difficult.

Most people would probably expect their wrist to hurt after they fall on it, but if it is not deformed or swollen, they may not know whether to go to the doctor and have it x-rayed. Signs that they should go ahead and visit the emergency room include fingers that aren't pink, numbness and excessive pain.

The doctor may simply need to set the bone back in place and immobilize the wrist and hand while the bone heals, which typically takes about six weeks. Usually, a splint is applied until the swelling goes down, and then the doctor would exchange that for a cast. Most people require physical therapy after the cast is removed.

Surgery is usually necessary if a cast cannot keep the arm stable enough to hold the bones in place, the bones are so separated that they cannot be manipulated back into place without surgery, or the break has punctured the skin. The surgeon may use metal pins, plates and screws, and/or a frame on the outside of the arm and hand to hold the bones together.

Recovery from a wrist injury may take a long time. A person may experience stiffness and aching when using the hand for vigorous activities for one or two years. There is also often a higher risk for bone weakness, or osteoporosis.

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