What is a dislocated wrist?

Your wrist contains eight small bones, called carpals. A network of ligaments holds them in place and allows them to move. A tear in any of these ligaments can result in two or more of your carpal bones being pushed out of their usual position. This results in a dislocated wrist.

While a dislocated wrist can involve all eight carpals, your lunate and scaphoid bones are often affected. These two bones form a bridge between the radius and ulna bones in your forearm and the other, smaller bones in your wrist.

There are a few different types of wrist dislocations. They include:

  • Anterior lunate dislocation. The lunate bone rotates while the other wrist bones remain in place.
  • Perilunate dislocation. This type involves the lunate bone and the three ligaments around it.
  • Galeazzi fracture. This type involves a break in your radius bone and dislocation of your radioulnar joint.
  • Monteggia fracture. This involves a break in your ulna and dislocation of one of the ends of your radius.

Most wrist dislocations involve either an anterior lunate dislocation or perilunate dislocation.

The main symptom of a dislocated wrist is intense pain that’s usually worse when you try to move your wrist up and down or side to side. You might also feel pain in your forearm.

You may also notice the following around your wrist:

  • swelling
  • tenderness
  • weakness
  • discoloration or bruising

If your lunate bone is involved, it may press against the nerves in your wrist. This can cause tingling or numbness in your fingers.

Any kind of traumatic injury to your hand or arm can result in a dislocated wrist. Common causes of these injuries include:

  • high-impact sorts, such as football or hockey
  • car accidents
  • breaking a fall with your hand

In addition, strain on the ligaments in your wrist can result in a dislocated wrist. This level of strain tends to come from doing things that put continuous pressure on your wrist, such as walking with crutches.

If you think you have some sort of wrist injury, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible or head to urgent care to avoid making the injury worse.

Your doctor will start by moving your wrist into different positions and asking whether you feel pain. This will help them determine which ligaments and bones might be involved. Your doctor will assess any damage done to the nerves, blood vessels, and tendons that supply the hand and wrist. Next, they’ll likely take an X-ray of your hand and forearm to confirm a diagnosis.

If your doctor suspects that you have an injured ligament, they may also use an MRI to help them make a diagnosis. This imaging test gives a clearer picture of your soft tissue, including ligaments.

Mild dislocations are usually treated with a procedure called a reduction. In this procedure, your doctor gently maneuvers the bones back into their proper positions. This can be quite painful, depending on the severity of your injury. To help with the pain, your doctor will use either local or general anesthesia beforehand.

Following the procedure, you’ll probably need to wear a splint or cast to prevent your wrist from moving while it heals. You might also need to wear a sling.

For more severe cases, you might need surgery to realign your wrist bones or repair torn ligaments. This is sometimes done using pins or screws to hold everything in place.

The healing time for a dislocated wrist depends on how severe it is. If you only need a reduction procedure, you should recover within two or three months. However, if you need surgery, it may take six months to a year to fully recover.

Regardless of the type of treatment you receive, you’ll need to follow up with physical therapy to regain strength and flexibility in your wrist. You may need to see a physical therapist or perform gentle exercises on your own while you recover.

While you recover, try to avoid putting pressure on your wrist whenever possible.

Wrist injuries can have a big impact on your day-to-day life. This is why it’s important to seek immediate treatment for any kind of wrist injury.

Depending on whether you need surgery, you’ll need anywhere from two months to a year to fully recover. Even after you recover, you may need to wear a wrist brace when doing things that put a lot of strain on your wrist, such as heavy lifting.