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December 7, 2006 6:49 PM   Subscribe

I just got my cast off my broken distal radius. I'm supposed to move it, but it hurts like crazy. Is that normal? Can anyone recommend a good exercise to strengthen my (sad, weenie) muscles while I wait for physical therapy? Any post-cast advice in general?

I just got my cast off for a distal radius fracture. I had surgery to put in a plate the day before Thanksgiving. Now, it hurts pretty badly. I'm supposed to move it, but it's so stiff. It hurts a lot.

MeFites who have had broken bones: is this normal? I can't bend it at all. Does anyone have any anecdotal advice on what to expect post-cast? (Comments from people who've fractured their radius are especially awesome!) I can't even rest my hand down to type without feeling a sharp pain.

I'm going to PT as soon as the doctor's office wrestles with my insurance. That will probably be a week or two. In the meantime, does anyone have a recommendation of exercises that would be beneficial to my wrist? My poor arm is all skinny and atrophied.

Thanks, guys. This broken bone has been a pain. I guess this post-cast period is yet another cycle of annoyance I have to get used to. Alas!
posted by ElectricBlue to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There is nothing good about breaking bones. They hurt. Just move it as often as you can without causing yourself agony. That won't be much for quite a while, but it will get better in time. When your PT tells you to do stuff, tell your PT how much it hurts when you do it; that will let them adapt your program to your healing rate.

If you want to keep it in a sling for a while to stop it hurting from just flapping about, that should be OK.

When I was a kid, I broke my right ulna and radius about two inches above my wrist. I've never felt pain that bad from anything else since. After the cast came off, that arm was stiff as hell for weeks, and weak for months. And that was a clean break - it didn't need a plate, just setting and an above-the-elbow cast.

Don't worry too much about building your muscles back up until your bones are good enough to deal with them again.

I feel your pain :-)
posted by flabdablet at 7:59 PM on December 7, 2006

[standard disclaimer: do not listen to any medical advice over the internet... go see a health care provider :)]

I would go back to the doctor and specifically ask him to make sure you don't have a scaphoid fracture (also called the navicular bone) in addition to the radius fracture (they often happen together). The scaphoid is at risk for avascular necrosis due to it's somewhat tenuous blood supply. Avascular necrosis is a serious complication. This is a very frequently missed fracture, since it can take awhile to show up in standard radiographs and is often overshadowed by the prominent radius fracture. You are giving an almost textbook history for it. Check to see if you have pain in the "anatomic snuff box" which is the easiest way to get at the scaphoid.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 8:23 PM on December 7, 2006

I snapped mine in half a little over a year ago, got a plate across the end of it. I've got pretty much full mobility but it still hurts a little as I type. If my case is any guide you can expect it to be a long recovery. The only thing I can recommend for building strength might be a squeezeball.

Yeah, I can definitely relate.
posted by scalefree at 8:26 PM on December 7, 2006

Congratulations on getting out of the cast!

Is there any way you could go to the PT's office and get some suggestions for exercises you can do at home while you wait for an actual appointment to be scheduled? At mine, they had mimeographed sheets ready for every possible injury; and restoring range of motion in the wrist is pretty standard stuff for them. If your injury is anything like mine, you'll work on range of motion first, and not start building strength back until much later. (I was a radial fracture too, but mine broke at the elbow.)

You really want to start the physical therapy as soon as possible. If there's any holdup with the insurance, and if you can afford it, I'd just go. This is one of your limbs you're talking about -- you don't want to give up five degrees of motion for the rest of your life to save a hundred bucks.
posted by escabeche at 10:07 PM on December 7, 2006

Find an experienced hand therapist - typically an OT with additional training in upper extremity recovery. I broke my wrist last year and it was a surprisingly painful recovery - the hand therapy helped tremendously but it was painful. The hand therapist will give you exercises to do at home that change as motion and strength returns (and it will return!). If motion is severely restricted, as mine was, you may be given a device that holds your arm into a flat position for an extended period (also painful but it worked). Stay consistent with your excercise program and be patient. Good luck!
posted by bluesky43 at 5:17 AM on December 8, 2006

i broke my ulna and radius both, just below the wrist, about a year ago. i had a lot of stiffness and some weird pains when i first got the cast off, and the advice of my doctor and physical therapist both was to do a few weeks of PT before worrying about a bad set or latent soft-tissue damage. if there's a problem, they'll spot it, but most times these pains go away after you start exercising the muscles. if a squeeze ball is too stiff, get some silly putty and do what you can -- any activity is good at this point.
posted by sonofslim at 8:59 AM on December 8, 2006

I have no idea if this would help in your situation, but I had a major surgery this year and what helped me before I started PT was going to the pool. You can't actually swim, obviously, but just get in and move your arm around a bit. It really helped me with the stiffness and slowly building up muscle again,and it was a lot more comfortable than it would have been trying to do the same movements out of the water.
I also third the squeeze ball recommendation - I brought mine to work and played with it while on the phone or doing anything else that didn't require require two hands.
posted by naoko at 10:35 AM on December 8, 2006

If it hurts "a lot," you should let your doc know. Pain thresholds are different for different people, but generally speaking, "a lot" of pain this late in the game isn't particularly common.

The way you do this is phone up your doc's office and tell the doc or the nurse "my arm hurts a lot more than I think it should."
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:19 AM on December 9, 2006

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