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Breaking Your Fall: Wrist Fractures in Snowboarders


Snowboarder falling with arms out

Whether you're new to the sport or average 100 days a year, snowboarding is an exhilarating way to experience the mountain. The last thing you want to think about when enjoying a bluebird day is getting hurt, but unfortunately, wrist fractures are one of the most common injuries among snowboarders.


Because your feet are fixed to the board, the natural instinct when falling is to reach out with your arms to catch yourself. If the snow is hard-packed or you've crashed at speed, the force on your hands puts your wrists at risk.


Here are some common symptoms of a broken wrist, treatment methods, and tips to help prevent this injury on the slopes.


Types of Wrist Fractures

x-ray of a wrist fracture while snowboarding

Although there are several types of wrist fractures, Dr. Joseph, an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in wrist injuries at Vail-Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery, typically sees distal radius and scaphoid fractures in his snowboarding patients.


Distal Radius Fractures

Distal radius fractures are the most common type of wrist fracture. This fracture occurs when the radius — the larger of two bones in your forearm — breaks near the end near the wrist. A distal fracture is usually the result of falling directly on the palm of your hand with force, but it can also occur if you fall on a bent wrist.


Scaphoid Fractures

The scaphoid bone sits at the end of your radius – on the thumb side of your wrist. Fractures of the scaphoid can occur if the inside of your hand absorbs the impact from a fall.


Symptoms of Wrist Fractures

The symptoms of a wrist fracture will vary depending on the type and severity of the injury but generally include the following:

  • A sudden sharp pain followed by a constant dull ache

  • Deformity of the wrist

  • Tenderness to the touch

  • Swelling

  • Difficulty moving your wrist or hand

  • Numbness or tingling in your hand

The symptoms of sprained and broken wrists are often relatively similar. Read more about how to tell the difference.


Treating a Fractured Wrist

Wearing a cast is one part of the treatment for a fractured wrist

Dr. Joseph will take several factors into consideration when recommending a treatment plan. This includes the location, type, and severity of the fracture, as well as your age, overall health, and activity level.


If the fractured bone is aligned or the bone can be non-operatively manipulated into place, you will likely need to wear a splint or cast for six to 12 weeks.


Dr. Joseph may recommend surgery to realign the broken bones in cases where:

  • The fractured bone is severely displaced or has broken through the skin

  • There are multiple fractures

  • The fractured bone extends to the wrist joint

  • There is damage to surrounding ligaments or nerves

Recovery after wrist surgery can take one to three months, depending on the fracture type and surgical procedure.


Physical therapy is recommended for all wrist fractures to help restore full function and strength.


Tips for an Injury-Free Season

How to have a safe snowboarding season and avoid injury

Snowboarding will always come with an inherent risk of injury. However, you can help prevent wrist fractures, and other injuries, with these simple tips:

  1. Wear a protective wrist brace.

  2. Take lessons to learn proper snowboarding techniques and avoid common mistakes.

  3. Make sure your bindings (and straps) are securely fastened.

  4. Warm up before hitting the slopes.

  5. If you're a beginner, start with green (easy) runs and work your way up to blues (more difficult) as you gain confidence and skill.

  6. Stay in control by checking your speed and being aware of your surroundings.

  7. Watch for changing snow conditions, such as icy runs or low visibility.

  8. If you're tired, take a break. It's not worth getting injured to keep up with others.

  9. Know your skill level and ride within it.

  10. If falling forward, try to land on your knees or forearms. If falling backward, let your backside absorb the impact.


Wrist Injury on the Slopes? Contact Dr. Joseph Today!

If you are experiencing wrist pain and swelling after a fall on the slopes, contact Dr. Joseph and his team at Vail-Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery today.


Dr. Joseph is known for his expertise in accurately diagnosing and treating wrist injuries and will develop a treatment plan that gets you back on the slopes as quickly and safely as possible.


Team Joseph offers urgent care and same-day appointments at clinics in Vail, Edwards, and Frisco. Call 970-476-7220 to make an appointment or submit a request online.



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