The wrist is one of the most easily and most commonly fractured sites on the body. No one breaks the “wrist bone,” because the wrist is not just one bone—it has 10. Eight of those bones are small and delicate. Only the radius and ulna, the bones of the forearm, are sizeable, although the radius is the most commonly fractured wrist bone (called a distal radial fracture).
Types of Wrist Fractures
Not all wrist fractures are created equal. Although a distal radial fracture may be the most common, any of the 10 bones in the wrist can break. Most of these fractures have different names and may have different risk factors.
Types of wrist fractures include:
The Colles fracture is a specific type of distal radial fracture where the broken end of the radius bends upward. A Colles fracture usually occurs due to a fall when trying to catch yourself on an outstretched hand.
A Smith fracture is another distal radial fracture, basically the opposite of a Colles fracture. Instead of bending up, the broken end of the radius bends down. This type of fracture can happen due to a fall where you land on the top part of the wrist, or from a direct blow to the same area.
The scaphoid is one of the eight small carpal bones that make up the carpal tunnel “floor” and the wrist. It can be found at the base of the thumb. Like the Colles fracture, a scaphoid fracture usually results from trying to catch a fall on the outstretched hand.
Barton fractures are similar to Colles fractures except for one crucial difference. Whereas the Colles fracture does not extend into or disrupt the wrist joint, the Barton fracture causes a dislocation of the radiocarpal joint—the fracture causes some of the carpal bones to move out of place.
Ulnar and radial styloid fractures
The styloid processes are the bulges found at the ends of the ulna and radius. An ulnar styloid fracture is usually found in conjunction with a distal radial fracture. A radial styloid fracture, also known as a Hutchinson fracture or chauffeur’s fracture, can sometimes be found in isolation.
Preventing Wrist Fractures
Read the list above again and you’ll find most have something in common: They’re generally caused by a fall onto an outstretched hand. Want to prevent wrist fractures? Work on your balance.
You can do balance exercises almost anywhere. To keep it safe and cut down on the risk of falling, make sure you have a sturdy object nearby to steady yourself with: a wall, a table, or a kitchen counter. Practice standing on one foot and seeing how long you can hold it. Walk heel-to-toe along a wall for 20 paces.
Generally, yoga and tai chi are excellent forms of exercise to promote balance (and flexibility).
Another aspect of wrist fracture prevention is strengthening the bones. Resistance training—with weights, machines, resistance bands or your own body—is well-known for its ability to strengthen muscles, but it also strengthens bones.
When you perform strength-training exercise, it creates small tears in the muscles, which your body then repairs with protein and rest so that they’re bigger and stronger than before. The same thing happens to bones. Resistance training has the added benefit of helping balance by creating stronger, more stable muscles and connective tissue.
Resistance training is especially important for older people, as the rate of bone creation falls below the rate of bone loss, which can result in osteoporosis. Osteoporosis—insufficient bone mass—is one of the main risk factors for fractures of all types, wrist fractures included.
If you have experienced a wrist fracture, or you’re interested in learning more about keeping your wrists safe, request an appointment with me or another Summit Medical Group Orthopedics hand and wrist specialists. We will be able to help you prevent wrist fractures, or treat an already fractured wrist.