Hand and Wrist Fractures

The bones in a normal hand line up precisely, letting you perform many specialized functions like grasping a pen or manipulating small objects in your palm. When you fracture a finger bone, it can put your whole hand out of alignment. Without treatment, your broken finger may stay stiff and painful.

Sometimes a bone can break without you realizing it. That's usually what happens to the scaphoid bone in your wrist, a boat-shaped bone located on the outermost side of the thumb side of the hand. Many people with a fractured scaphoid think they have a sprained wrist instead of a broken bone because there is no obvious deformity and very little swelling.

Signs and symptoms of a fracture in the bones of your hand or wrist include pain and tenderness and swelling. If you have a finger fracture, you may be unable to move your finger. Other indications of a finger fracture are a shortened finger, a depressed knuckle or if your finger crosses over an adjacent finger when you make a partial fist. If you have a wrist fracture, you may be unable to hold a grip. Other signs of a wrist fracture are pain that may subside, then return as a deep, dull aching and marked tenderness when pressure is applied on the side of the hand between two tendons that lead to the thumb.

Your physician will ask you to describe what happened, examine your hand and wrist, and order X-rays of the area. Your doctor must determine not only which bone fractured, but also how it broke: straight across, into several pieces or completely shattered.

Your doctor will put your broken bone back into place, usually without surgery. You'll get a splint or cast to hold your finger or wrist straight and protect it from further injury while it heals. Some bones - such as the scaphoid in the wrist - do not readily heal without surgery. Others - such as the distal radius in the outermost part of forearm - commonly require bone alignment with arthroscopic imaging using a flexible viewing tube inserted in the joint or radiographic imaging, and stabilizing with special bone screws, plates, pins or other devices.

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Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.

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UCSF Clinics & Centers


Hand & Upper Extremity Center
1500 Owens St.
San Francisco, CA 94158
Phone: (415) 353–2808
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