After a fracture has healed, wrist fracture exercises are an important part of the overall recovery process. We’ve seen some patients lose function because they didn’t receive any physical therapy after their Smith or Colles fracture. Don’t let this happen to you or a loved one.
Here’s more information on wrist fractures:
The wrist is made up of 15 different bones, each of which can get injured if the joint sustains a force that’s significant enough. But some of these bones are more likely to become injured than others, and the term “broken wrist” usually refers to a fracture of the distal part of the radius. These injuries can be serious and possibly even require surgery, but regardless of the treatments used, a course of physical therapy will be essential to ensure a complete recovery.
The radius is located on the thumb side of the wrist and is the larger of the two bones that make up the forearm. Along with the ulna, these bones permit movements of the elbow, hand, and wrist, and the distal radius takes on a great deal of the load that is sent to the wrist. This is one of the main reasons the distal radius are one of the most common injuries in the body. Of all fractures seen in the emergency room, about one-sixth are distal radius fractures. If you’d like to read more about these fracture types in our medical library, click here.
The vast majority of distal radius fractures occur after someone falls and lands with their hands outstretched, which is often called a “fall on an outstretched hand,” or FOOSH injury. Falls in sports like soccer and basketball, as well as biking, skateboarding or rollerblading accidents can all lead to a distal radius fracture if the person lands with enough force. These injuries are usually categorized depending on how the person lands on the wrist, as either a Colles’ fracture or a Smith’s fracture:
- Colles’ fracture: these injuries are caused by a fall onto the palm of the hand, which places the wrist in an extended position; the result is a fracture of the distal radius and possibly the ulna
- Smith’s fracture: also known as the reverse Colles’ fracture, these injuries occur from falls onto the back of the hand with the wrist in a flexed position
After a Colles’ or Smith’s fracture, the initial treatment for most patients is a reduction, in which the broken bone(s) are situated back into the correct position so that healing can occur. A doctor usually performs the reduction manually, but surgery may be needed if a bone is displaced too far out of position. Reduction is typically followed by a period of immobilization in a cast or brace that must be worn for 4-6 weeks. Regardless of whether or not surgery is performed, a course physical therapy is crucial both during and after the immobilization period to ensure a proper recovery.
Expert Suggestions About Wrist Fracture Exercises After the Break has Healed
While the wrist is still in a cast, a physical therapist can prescribe some gentle exercises the keep the shoulder, elbow, and fingers moving so that these joints don’t lose their flexibility. After the cast is removed, the wrist usually feels stiff and the arm feels weak, so your physical therapist will prescribe some post-injury wrist fracture exercises to address these issues and restore the function of your wrist. This usually includes manual (hands-on) therapy, ice and heat therapy, stretching and stretching exercises, and sport-specific exercises when applicable.
The effectiveness of physical therapy for treating patients with wrist fractures can be seen in the findings of a study published in 2017. Patients who experienced a distal radius fracture were randomly assigned to undergo either a home-exercise program or a supervised physical therapy program, and the results were as follows:
A supervised physical therapy program is effective in the short and medium term, showing a clinically and statistically significant increase in function. This treatment also reduces pain and improves wrist range of motion ROM compared with a home-exercise program.
Colles’ and Smith’s fractures are common injuries that should not be taken lightly, as failing to properly rehabilitate them can lead to long-term issues. This is why all patients should see a physical therapist and complete a comprehensive treatment program to guide them back to full strength.