Anatomy of the Wrist
The wrist is comprised of small bones called the carpal bones which articulate or connect with each other and with the two long bones in the forearm: the radius and the ulna. The bones meet to form multiple large and small joints. There are several ligaments holding the bones together and tendons which attach muscle to bone. Nerves that enable hand movements and sensation pass through the wrist. Any of these structures can suffer injury due to overuse or trauma. The wrist may also develop certain conditions such as the growth of a mass.
Common Wrist Injuries and Conditions
Wrist injuries commonly occur due to falls or certain sports and activities that involve repetitive use or excessive stress or strain on the wrists. These include gymnastics, basketball, working on an assembly line, or typing. Some wrist conditions have no clear cause.
Common wrist injuries and conditions include:
- Sprains and Strains: These are the most common injuries affecting the wrist. A sprain is an injury to a ligament and a strain refers to a muscle injury. They are caused by excessive forces applied during stretching, twisting, or thrusting.
- Complete ligament injury: This occurs when all the fibers of a ligament are torn, causing pain, swelling, and compromised movement.
- Repetitive Trauma Syndrome: Repetitive movements of the wrist over long periods of time can cause undue stress or pressure on the joints resulting in inflammation, pain, and decreased function in the extremity.
- Fractures: A fracture is a break in the bone which occurs when more force than the bearable limit is applied. This can happen during falls, accidents, and crushing injuries.
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition characterized by numbness or pain in the thumb and first two fingers and occurs when the median nerve is compressed at the wrist. It is a common complaint in individuals who use their hands for prolonged periods of time in an occupation such as computer work.
- Wrist Tendonitis: Tendons in the wrist may get inflamed and irritated due to trauma or repetitive use injuries.
- Osteoarthritis: This is the most common type of arthritis: joint inflammation due to cartilage loss. It is caused by wear and tear of the joints usually seen with aging.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: An autoimmune condition causing arthritis in the wrist as well as other joints.
- Gout: In this condition, uric acid crystals accumulate in the joints causing arthritis.
- Ganglion Cysts: These are benign masses filled with a jelly-like fluid that can sometimes develop in the wrist joints or tendons.
Symptoms of Wrist Injuries and Conditions
Signs and symptoms depend on the type of wrist injury or condition and may include:
- Tenderness and warmth around the injury
- Numbness in the hand
- Feeling a popping or tearing in the wrist
- Loss of motion
Diagnosis of Wrist injuries and Conditions
Your doctor will review your symptoms and medical history and perform a thorough physical examination to assess range of motion, stability of the wrist, and any ligament or tendon damage. Blood flow and skin color are also evaluated. The following diagnostic tests may be performed for further evaluation:
- X-rays: During this study, high-energy electromagnetic beams are used to produce images of the bones
- CT scan: Multiple x-rays are used to produce detailed cross-section images of the wrist.
- Electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies to measure nerve impulses and nerve damage.
Treatments for wrist pain depend on the type of injury or disorder. They can require either nonsurgical or surgical intervention, such as the following:
- Medications: Your doctor may prescribe analgesics and anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen and naproxen to relieve pain and inflammation.
- Icing: Applying an ice pack over a towel on the affected area for several minutes a day may help to relieve pain and swelling.
- Physical Therapy: Strengthening and stretching exercises can help improve range of motion and strengthen the wrist muscles.
- Cortisone Injections: Injection of corticosteroid medication directly into the affected wrist can help relieve pain and swelling.
- Casting and splinting: For wrist fractures where bones are not displaced your physician may place your broken wrist in a cast or splint until the bone heals satisfactorily.
- Closed reduction: If the wrist bones are displaced, your doctor will gently manipulate and align the bones properly without the need for surgery. This procedure is called closed reduction and is performed under local anesthesia to numb the wrist area. Once complete, a cast is applied to hold the bones in place while they heal.
Surgery is recommended to treat severely displaced wrist fractures and is carried out under local or general anesthesia.