Wrist Fractures In Athletes: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment
In October 2016, Rafael Nadal, the Spaniard tennis player dubbed the “King of Clay,” ended his tennis season after experiencing persistent pain in his wrist. He could only return to play three months later, in January 2017. He had nearly broken his wrist.
The threat of a wrist fracture can loom over any sports player, even the most seasoned one. Thankfully, athletes can bounce back after suffering from this injury. Singapore swimmer Teong Tzen Wei, for instance, came in 4th at the Fina World Swimming Championships in December 2022, despite suffering from a broken wrist three months earlier.
Whether you’re a casual or professional athlete, knowing more about the nature of wrist injuries can help you take preventive measures. In this article, we share just how wrist fractures occur and how you can treat them.
What Is A Wrist Fracture And How Does It Happen In Athletes?
The wrist comprises eight small bones called carpal bones and two longer bones called the radius and ulna. When one of these bones gets broken, a wrist fracture occurs. There are several reasons why athletes often experience wrist fractures.
Falling with an outstretched arm is a common cause of wrist fractures in athletes. This type of injury is common in sports that involve high-speed movements or jumping, such as skiing, snowboarding, and skateboarding.
2. Impact Injuries
Sports involving physical contact and collisions, such as American football, basketball and hockey, can cause a direct impact on the wrist. This increases the chances of fractures, sprains, and dislocations.
3. Weak Bones
Athletes with weak bones due to poor nutrition, low bone density, or osteoporosis are more likely to experience wrist fractures. Weak bones are more prone to breaking under stress, such as during a fall or impact.
4. Improper Technique And Equipment
Using improper technique or worn-out equipment such as gloves can put pressure on the wrist, risking injury. This is particularly true in sports that require repetitive motions, such as tennis, baseball, or weightlifting.
5. Insufficient Warm-up And Conditioning
Inadequate warm-up or conditioning increases the chances of injury in athletes. When an athlete’s body is not adequately prepared for the demands of their sport, they are more likely to experience injuries.
Common Types Of Wrist Fractures
A distal radius fracture is a wrist fracture that occurs when the radius bone in the forearm is broken near the wrist joint. It’s an umbrella term for the following subset of wrist fractures:
1. Colles’ fracture:
This is the most common type of wrist fracture and occurs when the radius bone in the forearm breaks and the wrist joint is displaced backward. This type of fracture often happens when people fall on their outstretched hands.
2. Smith’s Fracture:
This type of fracture occurs when you’ve fallen backwards and bent your wrist upon impact, causing the end of the radius to be displaced. The fractured wrist will look like it’s angled away from the palm of your hand.
3. Barton’s Fracture:
This type of fracture happens when you fall on the top of your bent wrist, causing a compression injury that extends well into the wrist joint. You may require an MRI scan as there could be damage to the ligaments and soft tissue around the wrist.
Symptoms Of Wrist Fractures
The symptoms of a broken wrist may vary. Swelling, bruising and deformity are the first signs of a fractured wrist. Other symptoms include pain when gripping or pinching objects and a limited range of movement. You may be unable to lift or carry things and feel general discomfort at the wrist.
Recommended Treatment For Wrist Fractures
The treatment for a broken wrist can be broken down into two options, the non-surgical or surgical route. The option you choose depends on the fracture’s severity.
The Non-surgical Option
In mild cases, where the fracture only causes a slight misalignment, wearing a cast for a few weeks will often suffice. This is sometimes followed by physical therapy to help you regain strength and restore range of motion.
Wearing a cast protects and supports the fractured wrists. It helps immobilise the injured wrist and keep the bone in place until it heals.
The Surgical Option
The surgical route is designed for more severe cases, where an incision is made into the skin to align the fracture. Plates and screws are frequently used to hold bone fragments in place and immobilise them so that they can heal over time. Pins are also an option, especially for children with growing bones.
Looking For Treatment For Your Broken Wrist In Singapore?
If you’ve broken your wrist or are experiencing persistent pain and discomfort in the area, it may be time to visit a specialist.
At Spire Orthopaedic Centre, we have years of experience in helping athletes heal their wrist injuries and return to their favourite sports. Contact us today for a consultation!