Gymnast's Wrist | Orthopaedics | Loyola Medicine

Distal Radial Epiphysis (Gymnast's Wrist)

Overview and Facts about Distal Radial Epiphysis (Gymnast's Wrist)

A distal radial epiphysis fracture, or gymnast's wrist, is an orthopedic condition characterized by breakage or fracture in the rounded end of the forearm bone. The distal radial epiphysis is relatively weak and is only present in children and adolescents because it serves as a growth plate to aid further bone growth in the wrist. The injury of it is common in gymnasts, as their movements place repeated strain and pressure on the distal radial epiphysis, which can sometimes lead to injury.

Signs and Symptoms of Distal Radial Epiphysis (Gymnast's Wrist)

Severe pain, stiffness, and tenderness in the wrist are key signs of a distal radial epiphysis fracture. Severe pain is usually present immediately after fracture to the distal radial epiphysis.

Other signs and symptoms within or around the wrist include:

  • Loss of flexibility, range of movement and function
  • Bruising and swelling
  • Visible deformity, such as abnormal bending
  • Pain when lifting objects or when the wrist is at rest

Causes and Risk Factors of Distal Radial Epiphysis (Gymnast's Wrist)

Children and adolescents who participate in activities that repeatedly engage or place pressure on the wrist, such as gymnastics, are at risk for a distal radial epiphysis fracture. High-impact trauma to the wrist can also damage the distal radial epiphysis. Acute or immediate injuries tend to occur during athletic competitions rather than practice. Both male and female gymnasts are at risk for distal radial epiphysis fractures.

Tests and Diagnosis of Distal Radial Epiphysis (Gymnast's Wrist)

To diagnose a distal radial epiphysis fracture, a doctor performs a physical exam and determines the overall state and functional capacity of the wrist. If they suspect breakage, an X-ray can help determine whether a distal radial epiphysis fracture is present, as well as its exact location. Early distal radial epiphysis injuries might not be detectable through X-rays, so a doctor might use computerized tomography (CT) scans to produce clearer images of the damaged area. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can aid in the assessment of soft tissue swelling and damage within the wrist.

Treatment and Care for Distal Radial Epiphysis (Gymnast's Wrist)

Risk of distal radial epiphysis injury can be reduced by wearing equipment or clothing that stabilizes and protects the wrist. Treatment of distal radial epiphysis depends on the level or extent of the injury and whether treatment is needed within the bone, cartilage or soft tissue. Late-stage injuries or fractures often require corrective surgery, while early-stage injuries tend to require a wrist brace to hold the wrist in place and prevent further injury.

In emergency situations, intravenous medications can relieve wrist pain, while nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can be used for pain management at home. Following treatment, physical therapy can help restore muscle strength within and around the wrist.