Your wrist doesn't care how it was injured - it just knows that it was injured. Maybe you fell and caught yourself with your outstretched arm. Maybe you've been playing too much Candy Crush or Mah Jong. Maybe arthritis is creeping into that wrist. It doesn't really matter how it happened. You just know that now it hurts to pick up a cup of coffee or grab the steering wheel. It hurts to work out at the gym or to pick up that newborn grandbaby. It hurts to type at work, and forget about Mah Jong!
Before we talk about treating that injury, let's look at the anatomy of the wrist for a few minutes, and some of the things that can go wrong with this incredibly complex, incredibly flexible, incredibly useful joint.
The Anatomy. The wrist, like the ankle, is composed of numerous small bones that intricately fit together to provide a full 360° of motion, coupled with a great deal of stability and strength. The wrist consists of 8 irregular bones called carpals. Distally (further from the shoulder), the carpals articulate (join) with the metacarpals, or hand bones. Proximally (closer to the shoulder) the carpals articulate with the radius and ulna, the bones of the forearm. Snaking through the carpals is the carpal tunnel, through which the blood and nerve supply for the hand pass.
What can go wrong? Anything that can go wrong with any other joint can go wrong with the wrist.
- A fall can result in fracture of the metacarpals, carpals or radius and ulna of the forearm. Falls, and other direct trauma, can also result in sprains (injuries to the ligaments), strains (injuries to the muscles and tendons) and dislocation of the wrist.
- Repetitive motion, as may be found in factory work, keyboarding or any other activity involving long stretches of repetitive motion (think Candy Crush), can result in carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the passage through which the nerves and blood supply pass is no longer large enough. This can happen because the nerves and tissues in this very small passageway swell due to repeated stress.
- Old injuries, disease process or just time, can cause arthritis (arthr/o = joint; -itis = inflammation) of the wrist. The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
- If we live long enough, almost all of us will experience osteoarthritis at some point in our lives. This is the simple “wear and tear” arthritis that happens over time. The cartilage between bones, which serves to cushion and make motion smoother, wears away, and eventually, the body can’t keep up with the replacement of old cartilage. This can result in a “bone-on-bone” situation, which results in pain and dysfunction.
- Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means that the body’s immune system begins to attack its own tissues. Rheumatoid arthritis, like osteoarthritis, can occur in any joint of the body. This can result in loss of cartilage or even loss of bone, leading to pain, deformity and dysfunction.
Treating wrist injuries. Fortunately, most injuries to the wrist can be treated conservatively (non-operatively), with rest, ice, anti-inflammatories and bracing. You and your orthopedic doctor will come up with a plan to give that sore wrist a chance to heal on its own. Part of that plan will probably include a brace or support, to take the strain off of your injured wrist. A high-quality wrist splint or brace from Mueller is just the ticket. It’s what we’ve been doing since 1960.
To find out more about how Mueller Sports Medicine can help you get back to the gym, back to Mah Jong and (most importantly) back to that grandbaby, please contact us.