Demystifying Wrist and Ligament Injuries

Ankle and knee injuries certainly top the list when it comes to the most common injuries in basketball and football players.  However, wrist injuries, such as the one plaguing the University of Kansas depth chart  should not be overlooked.

Frequently, wrist injuries such as fractures can be quickly diagnosed by an xray.  However, it is common for injuries not to be identified until an MRI of the wrist is obtained.  MRI imaging allows the orthopedic surgeon to identify injuries to the soft tissues as well as injuries to the bone that may not be apparent on the x-ray alone.

In the most recent publicized case, X-ray alone was not able to identify the injury of concern, and an MRI was needed.

I would argue that, in addition to a high quality x-ray reviewed by an orthopedic wrist specialist, a detailed examination is essential to pick up the necessity of higher resolution imaging such as an MRI.  It is the combination of X-ray imaging and high quality examination that provides for the best screen for the athlete with a wrist injury.

The anatomy of the wrist is complex, and its ligament names are not as famous as that of the “anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) or ulnar collateral ligament of the elbow (UCL).  The most frequently injured ligament requiring surgical management is called the scapholunate ligament.  An orthopedic wrist specialist is best suited to evaluate for this injury clinically, and provide appropriate management.  Treatment of these injuries could include casting, splinting, hand therapy or surgery.

Beware of self-diagnosing a wrist injury as a “sprain”. Even wrist fractures can behave like a “sprain”. Best to be safe and not sorry and get a high quality x-ray and thorough wrist evaluation by an orthopedic wrist specialist.

Dr. Kenneth P. Unruh

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