What is an ulnar styloid fracture?
You have two main bones in your forearm, called the ulna and radius. The ulna runs along the outside of your wrist, while the radius runs along the inside of your wrist. There’s a bony projection at the end of the ulna, near your hand, called the ulnar styloid process.
It fits into the cartilage of your wrist joint and plays an important role in the strength and flexibility of your wrist and forearm. Any sort of break in this area is called an ulnar styloid fracture.
Use this interactive 3-D diagram to explore the ulnar styloid process.
What are the symptoms?
As with any type of fracture, the main symptom of an ulnar styloid fracture is immediate pain. This type of fracture usually occurs together with a radius fracture. If this happens, you’ll more likely feel pain on the inside of your wrist than you do near the ulnar styloid process.
Additional symptoms include:
In severe cases, you might also notice your wrist and hand hanging at a different angle than they usually do.
What causes it?
Most hand and wrist fractures (the latter of which is basically an ulnar styloid fracture) are caused by trying to break a fall with your arm outstretched.
Other common causes include:
- car accidents
- hard falls
- sports injuries, especially those that involve catching balls
In addition, having osteoporosis can also increase your risk of fractures. This condition makes your bones weak and brittle, so you need to take extra precautions to avoid broken bones.
How is it treated?
Treating broken bones involves trying to get the bones to heal back to their original position. This can be done both with or without surgery.
Mild ulnar styloid fractures often just need a basic wrist cast. In some cases, your doctor may have to realign bones before adding a cast. This process is called reduction, and it can sometimes be done without an incision (closed reduction).
For more severe breaks, including those involving other nearby bones, you’ll likely need surgery. This involves an open reduction: Your doctor will make an incision near the break and use the opening to reset the affected bones. Severe breaks may require using metal screws or pins to keep the bones in place while they heal.
Following an open reduction, you’ll need a durable cast, usually made out of plaster or fiberglass.
How long does it take to heal?
The healing time associated with an ulnar styloid fracture depends on how severe the fracture is and whether any other bones were fractured. Generally, you’ll have swelling in your outer wrist for a few days. You may need to wear a splint to prevent your wrist from moving too much during this time.
If you need a cast, it’ll stay on for a few weeks while the swelling continues to go down and the bone heals. You may need a new cast if it starts to feel loose after the swelling subsides.
For more severe fractures requiring surgery, you’ll go straight into a cast after the procedure. Your doctor will likely follow up with regular X-rays every few weeks to get an idea of how things are healing. Depending on the extent of the fracture, you might need to keep the cast on for a few weeks or a couple of months.
Once the cast is off, it’ll be about one or two months before you can return to low-impact physical activities, such as swimming. You can start working your way back up to your previous activity level within about three to six months, depending on your injury.
Keep in mind that full recovery can take a year or more, especially for more severe wrist injuries. You might also feel lingering stiffness for up to two years.
Your doctor can give you a more specific timeline based on your injury and overall health.
The bottom line
On their own, ulnar styloid fractures don’t cause many problems. However, they rarely occur on their own, usually accompanying a radius fracture. Depending on how severe your injury is, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to six months before you can return to your previous levels of activity and exercise.