Wrist pain two years after the injury--suck it up or get treated?
July 15, 2013 5:24 AM   Subscribe

Two years ago, I sprained or broke my wrist in a classic trip-and-fall on ice. I still have pain, weakness, and impaired use of my wrist. Is this something I should just cope with, or did something fail to heal correctly?

In March 2011 I slipped on some ice and, while falling backward, used my right hand to break my fall. Fast forward about a month and I finally go to the doctor to get it looked at. The doctor decides it's probably a scaphoid fracture when he pushes on my anatomical snuffbox and it hurts like hell.

The X-ray is inconclusive, but the treatment for sprain and break are apparently the same, so I get a customized splint and physical therapy. I wear the splint for a good while (at first full time and then only at night and then only as needed) and get physical therapy (dipping my hand in hot wax, some sort of electrode wire therapy, exercises with a ball, that kind of thing). I fully admit to not being the best patient ever as far as physical therapy: I did the exercises but not as often as I perhaps should have. Eventually, I'm done with the whole thing and go on with my life.

Except: my wrist has never come back all the way to where it was before I injured it. It's painful for me to grip things with my thumb (I can do it, but I'll drop them if I have to do it for an extended time), the area around my thumb is often stiff and pains me at times, I can absolutely tell when bad weather is coming on as my wrist stiffens up quite painfully, things like holding a computer mouse can occasionally cause my thumb to shake uncontrollably, etc.

Complicating factor:
I fell at work, and it was decided that I had a valid worker's compensation claim. So the state where I lived (my employer at the time) paid for the entire treatment plan. I don't work for that state anymore--I now work for a different one--and to make matters worse, my insurance is currently COBRA'd state-where-I-lived transitioning to new state insurance in another month or so. I have no idea if the worker's comp claim would cause problems in getting a doctor to look at the wrist but I can't imagine that it helps.

So, should I go to a doctor to have them look at the wrist or should I deal with it and move on? YANAD/YANMD, as appropriate.

Also appreciated: any thoughts on who to contact (HR at old job? HR at new job? Insurance company at old job? Worker's comp at old job? Worker's comp at new job?) if I do need to see a doctor and the worker's comp claim does make a difference.
posted by librarylis to Health & Fitness (9 answers total)
It sounds like it's worth looking into, but I'd want to consult an expert. Maybe track down an excellent hand surgeon and get the situation evaluated to see what treatments might be medically feasible before you worry too much about how to pay for that treatment?
posted by jon1270 at 5:31 AM on July 15, 2013

Use your existing insurance and go see a doctor. Get evaluated. It may be that you have suffered a permanant disability, if so, then you can deal with HR in the old state, re-opening the worker's comp claim, etc.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:31 AM on July 15, 2013

Should you go to the doctor to have a chronic pain issue evaluated? Of course. It sure isn't getting better on its own after treatment ceased, treatment which may have even been the wrong course of action for what happened.
posted by inturnaround at 5:31 AM on July 15, 2013

See a doctor. I ignored an ankle torsion fracture for a year after the X-ray showed no break. A year later when it still hurt (a lot! And I had range of motion impairment), I got an MRI showing multiple breaks and ongoing damage from use & wear, on a surface that couldn't be seen by X-ray. I got micro fracture surgery & 2 months immobilization, then physical therapy. Ten years on, it's like I never broke it.
posted by toodleydoodley at 5:35 AM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's still bothering you all this time later. Maybe it can be helped or maybe it can't, but for sure you should go see a doctor.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:44 AM on July 15, 2013

Physical therapy benefits even old wrist injuries, so long as you follow up with the exercises. Get it treated. You need your hands to get you up out of chairs in old age.
posted by crazycanuck at 7:32 AM on July 15, 2013

Seconding @Toodley. I was in an auto accident and the x-ray showed nothing. Two months of mild but persistent pain convinced me to go to a specialist, who did an MRI and found a fracture. Apparently, there are tiny bones in your wrist that don't hurt too bad when they are broken, easy to miss on an x-ray, and don't heal very well with just a splint. (FWIW, my symptoms were exactly like yours). Definitely see a specialist and good luck!
posted by rada at 10:31 AM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for responding. It looks like I should bring this up with a doctor (luckily, there are literally thousands of world-class doctors right up the block from me). I appreciate your thoughtful answers.
posted by librarylis at 6:37 PM on July 17, 2013

Response by poster: Update: the doctor was very polite, but the upshot (after another X-ray and some specific in-office exercises to check my range of motion and degree of pain) is I should use Tylenol to combat any pain. I feel a little silly but silly is better than the alternatives. Thanks again, all.
posted by librarylis at 4:40 PM on November 4, 2013

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