8 signs of a broken wrist and how PT can help

Why Does My Wrist Hurt

When you feel pain in your wrist, especially after a fall or accident, your mind can jump to many different conclusions. Is it sprained or dislocated? Maybe it’s broken? 

A broken wrist means that you fractured one of the bones in your wrist or forearm. It’s often the result of playing high-impact sports or experiencing direct trauma, such as a motor vehicle accident or a fall. But what does it feel like? That’s what we’re here to discuss. By learning about the signs and symptoms of a broken wrist, and how they compare to other wrist injuries, you can gain an idea of the safest treatment options, including physical therapy.

We’ll talk about the signs of a broken wrist and how it compares to a sprain, another common wrist injury. We’ll also discuss how physical therapy can help and the specific treatments that may be included in your personalized plan.

Think you might have a broken wrist? Here are 8 signs and symptoms to look for

A broken wrist, also known as a wrist fracture, can occur in any of the bones in your forearm or wrist, but it’s most commonly seen at the end of the radius bone of the forearm, known as a distal radius fracture. You may also fracture one of the eight carpal bones in the wrist, known as a scaphoid fracture.

While a broken wrist can’t be officially diagnosed without an imaging test by a physician, there are many signs to look for. By learning about the signs and symptoms of a broken wrist, you can get a jump-start on the recovery process. It’s important to note that signs are the physical issues while symptoms are the internal issues. A broken wrist has a few of both.

Here are 8 signs and symptoms of a broken wrist:

  1. Pain that worsens during movement or grasping items.
  2. Deformed appearance, such as a bent wrist.
  3. Swelling.
  4. Bruising.
  5. Tenderness.
  6. Weakness.
  7. Grinding, cracking or crunching noises during movement.
  8. Reduced range of motion.

The difference between a broken and sprained wrist

It can be easy to confuse a broken wrist for a sprain as both can occur from an injury sustained while playing a sport or falling down on it. While a broken wrist means that the bone has been damaged, a sprained wrist refers to a damaged ligament that has been overstretched or torn.

Both broken and sprained wrists cause symptoms such as swelling and weakness. But there are other signs and symptoms that can manifest in different ways:

  • Pain — While having either a broken or sprained wrist can cause pain during movement, the pain of a broken wrist tends to be much more severe. Some sprains may not cause much pain at all, or feel more tender than actual pain.
  • Sound at time of injury — When you break your wrist, you can often hear a loud crunching or cracking sound at the moment of impact or trauma. A sprain may not cause any sound, but it’s possible to hear a popping noise.
  • Range of motion — While a sprained wrist will still allow you to move it around, despite discomfort, a broken wrist can have little to no mobility.

It’s also worth noting that it’s possible to sustain a fracture and sprain in your wrist at the same time.

How physical therapy can help a broken wrist

When you break your wrist, the first course of action is to see a physician for testing to confirm the diagnosis. They will likely recommend that you wear a splint or cast for up to six weeks to keep the affected bones in place as they heal to prevent further damage. Surgery may be required before wearing the splint or cast.

Once the cast or splint is removed, physical therapy is required to move you along the recovery process. The goal of physical therapy is to help restore the function of your wrist so that you can return to your regular physical tasks.

Physical therapy for a broken wrist has the following goals:

  • Reduce pain.
  • Increase strength and flexibility.
  • Restore range of motion.
  • Prepare the wrist to return to specific activities, such as sports or job demands.
  • Ensure that you don’t return to physical activity before you’re healed.
  • Reduce the risk of recurring fracture.

The timeline of physical therapy for a broken wrist can vary from person to person depending on the bone that was fractured as well as how you respond to treatment. Rehabilitation through physical therapy can take up to four months for a full recovery.

Physical therapy treatments to help broken wrist rehabilitation 

Whether you’re currently in a cast, just had it taken off, or you underwent surgery, physical therapy plays a vital role in helping to heal your broken wrist. Your physical therapist will work with your referral doctors to determine the safest and most effective treatment options to reduce your pain and restore your wrist’s overall function.

Physical therapy treatments commonly involved in broken wrist recovery include:

  • Targeted exercises — Restoring your wrist’s strength, flexibility and range of motion are at the forefront of your physical therapy goals. Your physical therapist will walk you through exercises intended to increase the strength of your wrist muscles to restore its ability to do tasks like grip, squeeze and lift. They will also show you stretching exercises to improve the flexibility of the muscles to restore your wrist’s function and normal range of motion. Your therapist will ensure that the exercises are safe as to not exacerbate your symptoms or push your wrist beyond its current abilities.
  • Manual therapy — One of the first courses of action for pain management during wrist rehabilitation is manual therapy, which refers to hands-on techniques. Your physical therapist can use their hands for a variety of techniques, such as soft tissue mobilization. It involves massage-like motions to break up the painful scar tissue caused by both the injury and potential surgery.
  • Education — It’s impossible to 100% guarantee that you’ll never have another wrist fracture in the future, especially if you use your wrists often for your line of work or while playing sports. Your physical therapist can help you learn how to reduce the risk of re-injuring the area, such as joint protection techniques and equipment recommendations while playing sports.

Excel Sports & Physical Therapy can help you recover from a broken wrist

Whether you’ve fractured your wrist while trying to break a fall, catching a football or crashing on a bike, a broken wrist is a serious injury that shouldn’t be taken lightly. You should immediately book an appointment with a physician so that they can take a look at your symptoms and confirm the fracture using imaging tests, like an X-ray. Whether they decide you need surgery, or you skip right to the cast, you will likely be required to have physical therapy to completely recover your wrist function.

At Excel PT, we can guide you through every stage of your wrist rehabilitation, from restoring mobility to re-familiarizing the affected area with the everyday activities that you want to return to. Your treatment plan will be personalized based on the cause of your injury, medical history, previous treatments and physical capabilities. 

With everything from targeted strengthening exercises to soft tissue mobilization, Excel PT therapists can help you accelerate your recovery and restore your wrist’s function.

Call us or request an appointment today to treat signs of a broken wrist.