What are hand, wrist or elbow fractures?

Wrist fractures (broken wrist) occur when one of the eight small bones or two long forearm bones (radius and ulna) breaks. The radius bone breaks (distal radial fracture) more often than the others, but any of the 10 bones could break.

Elbow fractures (broken elbow) occur when the bony tip of the elbow (olecranon) breaks. Three bones come together to form the elbow joint. The humerus is the bone in the upper arm, the radius is the thumb side forearm bone, and the ulna is the pinkie side forearm bone. Elbow fractures are also called olecranon fractures. This bone does not have much protection from muscles around it, so it can be easily broken with trauma.

Hand fractures (broken hand) occur when one of the small or long bones (phalanges or metacarpals respectively) in the finger breaks.

Causes of hand, wrist or elbow fractures

There are a variety of causes of hand, wrist or elbow fractures including:
  • Severe trauma such as car accidents or motorcycle accidents
  • Falling on an outstretched hand
  • Weak bones from osteoarthritis can cause bones to break more easily
  • Injuries from direct contact sports
  • Twisting injuries

Risk factors for hand, wrist or elbow fractures

Risk factors for fractures are:
  • High impact sporting activities
  • Participating in extreme sports

Symptoms of hand, wrist or elbow fractures

Symptoms of hand, wrist or elbow fractures include pain, tenderness and swelling in the impacted area.

Other symptoms of hand, wrist or elbow fractures include:

  • Bruising in the hand, wrist or elbow
  • Finger numbness
  • Swelling on the bony tip on the back of the elbow (elbow fractures only)
  • Deformity
  • Inability to bend the fingers (hand fracture) or elbow (elbow fracture)
  • Depressed knuckle (hand fracture)

Diagnosis of a hand, wrist or elbow fracture

Hand, wrist or elbow fractures are diagnosed in a physical exam. The physician may do a range of motion test and order an x-ray, MRI or CT scan to evaluate the extent of the injury and determine the best course of treatment.

Treatments for hand, wrist or elbow fractures

If you suspect you have a hand, wrist or elbow fracture, seek medical treatment as soon as possible. These conditions need prompt treatment by an orthopedic or sports medicine physician to ensure you fully recover.

Mercy Health offers the following treatments for hand, wrist or elbow fractures:

  • Splint/brace
  • Cast
In severe hand, wrist or elbow fractures, the bone may shatter into many pieces or the bone may be forced out through the skin. These severe fractures require surgery to restore stability and alignment in the hand, wrist or elbow.

Recovery from hand, wrist or elbow fractures

Recovery from a severe hand, wrist or elbow fracture make take as long as six months. For mild to moderate hand, wrist or elbow fractures, recovery can be as short as eight weeks.

It is important to follow your physician’s instructions on when you can resume normal day-to-day activities.

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