The Benefits of Physical Therapy After Healing a Broken Wrist

A broken wrist is a major inconvenience. This joint is the location at which the two forearm bones — the ulna and radius — make contact with the various carpal bones of the hand. A break or fracture is caused by a large fall or excessive force against the bone. It is most common in the wrist end of the radius and occurs less often in the ulna and the scaphoid of the carpal bones.

Physical therapy restores movement after wrist fracture. (Image: fizkes/iStock/GettyImages)

Symptoms include severe pain, swelling, tenderness, stiffness, numbness, deformity of the hand and loss of grip strength. Surgery may be needed to repair and realign the bone, followed by months of physical therapy to rebuild lost function.

Physical Therapy for Broken Wrist

Physical therapy for a broken wrist usually begins once the cast is removed about six weeks after the fracture has occurred. You might begin while your cast is still on if you have difficulty moving your fingers. Your therapist might fit you for a removable splint once the cast is off to help protect your wrist between exercise sessions.

Benefits of Therapy

Wrist exercises are used to restore muscle strength, mobility and function lost after the injury. Therapy cannot heal the initial fracture, but repeated load-bearing activities can work to build stronger, denser bones. This is an important factor in preventing future injuries. Since wrist fractures often occur in older people, therapy may be ongoing to improve bone density. In this case, low-impact exercises, such as swimming, are usually recommended.

Hand and Wrist Exercises

The wrist joint operates like a hinge, and the most common wrist physical therapy exercise, known as an extension/flexion, involves bending the wrist up and down on that hinge. As healing develops, you can perform this exercise with a weight in hand to further strengthen the muscles. The wrist also has a limited movement side to side, which is known as a wrist deviation.

A third movement, the supination/pronation, involves flipping the forearm up and down. Other exercises include extending your fingers, squeezing a tennis ball/hand grip or a prayer stretch. You can also perform isometric exercises, which are exercises without muscle contractions, by simply pushing against your stationary hand.

Each of these movements is a vital part of the stages of physical therapy. However, a medical professional is needed to make exercise recommendations and demonstrate proper mechanics. Physical therapy is usually done in an out-patient setting and should be supervised. You may be able to start a home program once you have learned proper form and routine.

Discontinuation of Therapy

Wrist fracture healing time varies by individual. Therapy is usually completed once you have achieved a full restoration of mobility and strength, after which time you can continue a regular exercise routine on your own. It may take as long as a year to fully recover from a wrist fracture. However, the precise duration of the therapy depends on the extent of the injury, the kind of treatment received and your body's response to the treatment.

Rehabilitation may be delayed from persistent stiffness, nerve or blood vessel damage, and osteoarthritis, which is either caused by fractures that extend into the joint or a pre-existing problem. Residual wrist problems can be permanent.

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