How to Tell the Difference Between a Wrist Sprain and a Fracture | Nose Creek Physiotherapy
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How to Tell the Difference Between a Wrist Sprain and a Fracture

At one time or another, most of us have had an unfortunate accident in our lifetime that has caused an injury to the wrist. In the winter we tend to see more slip and falls due to the slippery conditions, and one very common injury is a wrist sprain or fracture. This usually happens when the arm extends to break a person’s fall. We refer to this mechanism of injury as a “fall on an outstretched hand” or FOSH. Whenever you’re dealing with a joint injury, it can become a rather complicated process to diagnosis. This is mainly because it is possible to have a ligament sprain along with a fracture depending on the nature of the accident.

Similar Symptomatic Attributes

Both wrist sprains and fractures can share a large portion of the same symptoms such as bruising, swelling and painful tenderness. A sprain is an injury to the ligaments that help stabilize the wrist bone and usually results from a sudden or gradual irregular movement or an unnatural twisting motion of the joint.
A fracture refers to a break in the actual wrist bone which is comprised of about 8 bones in the wrist. I fractured my scaphoid in University from a fall off a bike. Initially the road rash hurt more then the fractured wrist, but the wrist had a CONSTANT ache that was unrelenting no matter what position the wrist was in. So later that day I went for an X-ray to confirm the fractured bone in my wrist.


Wrist Fractures

There are some differences that might clue you in on whether or not your accident may have resulted in a wrist fracture. They can include the following:

  • Generally caused by a sudden impact
  • Hearing a popping or cracking noise
  • Range of motion changes in fingers
  • Numbness
  • Limited movement of the wrist joint
  • Constant dull ache that is unrelenting

With a wrist fracture, you will normally see the pain worsen over a period of time with the inability to bear any kind of weight on the bone.

Wrist Sprains

With wrist sprains, pain will usually be tolerable if there is no fracture present. Muscle and joint pain does somewhat differentiate itself from bone pain. The following symptoms may indicate a wrist sprain:

  • Wrist can move, but causes patient great discomfort
  • Redness or warmth at the wrist joint
  • Swelling or bruising
  • Intermittent pain with movement (not constant dull ache)

Proper Evaluation and Treatment

If you injure your wrist, place a cold pack over a washcloth to decrease swelling and stabilize the wrist area until you can get medical treatment. Because it can be very difficult to tell between wrist sprains and wrist fractures, an x-ray is almost always advisable. Your Doctor should obtain an x-ray of the wrist to make sure none of the bones have been fractured around the wrist joint if you have a history of trauma to your wrist and are experiencing the characteristic symptoms of a fracture we described earlier.

If you have continuing pain from a wrist sprain or fracture, please call our Beddington clinic at 587.205.5230, or click here to book a free discovery session to find out how we can help you.

Blair Schachterle
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