Wrist fracture

This information is for anyone who has a wrist fracture that doesn't require surgery.

Your injury may be referred to as a fracture, break or crack. These terms all mean the same thing.

When you have a fracture, it's not just the bone that's affected. You'll also have injured some of the soft tissues around it. Soft tissues include the:

  • muscles
  • ligaments
  • tendons
  • nerves
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A wrist fracture.

Recovery times

After a wrist fracture, most of the healing happens between 6 to 12 weeks.

It's normal to have aches and discomfort beyond this. This often happens when you try activities you haven’t done for a while.

It's also normal for the area to be more sensitive for several months after the injury.

What can affect your recovery?

There are some things that might affect your recovery.

Smoking

Smoking affects all your tissues and slows facture healing times. In some people, it can stop healing altogether.

Stopping smoking as your fracture heals will help to ensure the best recovery.

Get help to stop smoking.

General Health

Some medical conditions, like diabetes, may slow down the healing process.

Eating a healthy diet and keeping yourself active will help your recovery.

Medication

Some medications can slow down fracture healing. If you have concerns about your medication talk to a healthcare professional.

Anti-inflammatory medication, like Ibuprofen or Naproxen, has been shown to delay healing.

What to expect after a wrist fracture

A wrist fracture can be debilitating as you can’t use your hand normally.

Depending on the type of fracture you have, you may be immobilised in a cast or a wrist splint.

If you've been given a splint, you can remove it for hygiene purposes. For example, to allow you to shower or bathe.

If the splint is no longer fitting well please contact your fracture clinic.

Further information on having a cast fitted or removed.

Rehabilitation plan

There are things you can do to help your recovery after a wrist fracture.

0 to 4 weeks after your injury

Just after your injury, you should:

  • maintain your shoulder and elbow movements
  • keep your fingers and thumb moving by regularly opening and closing your hand to make a fist
  • manage your pain and swelling

4 to 6 weeks after your injury

At this time, you'll come out of your splint or cast. It's not unusual to be stiff when your cast or splint is removed.

You can start gentle exercises, as guided by your healthcare professional.

6 to 8 weeks after your injury

As your injury recovers, you can begin to:

  • return to full function
  • resume normal day to day activity
  • gradually increase the amount of weight you're carrying
  • return to contact sports at 12 weeks


You can start exercises for your wrist once advised by your healthcare professional.

Stop exercising if it makes your symptoms worse, or if it causes new pain.

Help and support

If your wrist function hasn’t improved within 6 weeks of following this advice, it’s a good idea to talk to a healthcare professional about your symptoms.

Pain after a fracture

It's normal to have some discomfort in the areas around your fracture. The areas affected can be:

  • other soft tissues
  • nearby joints
  • areas that have been immobilised

Pain can change from day to day and it doesn’t always depend on what you're doing. It's common to have pain at rest.

It's normal to have some pain even when your fracture has healed. Some people also experience discomfort in the fracture site during colder weather.

Your local pharmacy can give you advice on managing pain after a fracture.

Find your local pharmacy

Use Scotland's Service Directory to find your local pharmacy.

Pharmacies

Swelling

It's normal to have swelling near the fracture site. It often spreads down your arm.

Swelling can sometimes last for months. The amount of swelling can also change depending on:

  • your position
  • your activity
  • the time of day

It's important that swelling is managed well to help your recovery.

How to manage swelling

Having a lot of swelling can become uncomfortable or limit your movement. To help reduce the swelling you can try to:

  • raise your arm above your heart when resting - you can do this by supporting it with pillows
  • keep the other joints in your arm moving normally
  • find a balance between rest and activity
  • use self-massage to decrease swelling - if you're able to, direct the massage from your fingertips towards  your elbow

Bruising

It's normal to have bruising after a fracture.

Bruising can be widespread and may appear a long way from your fracture. It can be very purple to start with and may change colour as you recover.

Getting back to normal activities

In general, you should pace yourself when it comes to getting back to normal activities. Only do things as you feel able.

Driving

You should contact your insurance provider before driving as your injury may affect your insurance.

Once you're out of your splint, the general advice is that you must be able to safely perform an emergency stop or manoeuvre.

You should always be in full control of your vehicle.

Work

Your return to work will depend on the type of work you do and your employer. It may be possible to discuss a phased return to work or changed duties.

You don’t need to see a healthcare professional to return to work.

Daily activities

Keep doing any activities you're able to, as your pain allows. Over time, gradually increase what you do.

Reduced flexibility and strength may make things more difficult to start with. This will get better as you slowly build up to all your usual activities.

Mood

Frustration or low mood after an injury is normal. As you get back to normal life this should get better.

Falls

Loss of confidence is common after a fracture.

Further advice about preventing falls.

Bone scanning

You may be sent a letter inviting you for a scan of your bone density after a fracture.

It's routine to be assessed for any further risk of fracture, especially if you:

  • are over the age of 50
  • have increased risk factors for fracture

Last updated:
01 August 2022