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Vitamin C and Wrist Fractures

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Updated February 10, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: Vitamin C and Wrist Fractures
Wrist fractures are the most common type of broken bone in people under 65 years of age. Most wrist fractures heal uneventfully, often with simple immobilization in a cast or splint. However, there are possible problems associated with a broken wrist that can lead to chronic wrist pain.

One specific problem is called complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), and it can cause debilitating pain after wrist fractures.

Studies have investigated the use of vitamin C in possibly lowering the chance of developing CRPS after a wrist fracture. Should vitamin C be part of the treatment of wrist fractures?

Answer: The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons published guidelines regarding the treatment of wrist fractures. They grade their recommendations based on the strength of scientific evidence to support different types of treatment. They "suggest" the use of vitamin C after sustaining a wrist fracture to aid in prevention of CRPS.

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome & Wrist Fractures

CRPS is a specific condition of chronic pain that can occur in a limb following an injury or surgical procedure. CRPS is characterized by the following symptoms:
  • Tenderness to even light touch
  • Swelling of skin and soft tissues
  • Wasting of muscles; thickening of skin
The chance of developing CRPS after a wrist fracture is small, although the exact chance varies on how you define CRPS. Most studies have found about a 2% chance of developing CRPS after a wrist fracture.

How Is CRPS Prevented by Taking Vitamin C?

Recent studies have found that there may be less of a chance of developing CRPS after a wrist fracture if you take vitamin C. Vitamin C is an antioxidant and is thought to play a role in the prevention of CRPS by destroying oxygen free radicals, a by-product of inflammation seen in healing of soft-tissues. The thought is that these free radicals may cause a secondary soft-tissue injury and lead to the development of CRPS.

Bottom Line: Should I Take Vitamin C After a Wrist Fracture?

Fortunately, vitamin C is safe and inexpensive. Higher doses of vitamin C (more than 500mg daily) have not been shown to be more beneficial in preventing CRPS. While there is still a question as to if there are any effects of taking vitamin C on preventing CRPS, it is a safe treatment that may be helpful.

Sources:

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons "Guideline on the Treatment of Distal Radius Fractures" December 5, 2009.

Shah AS, et al. "Use of Oral Vitamin C After Fractures of the Distal Radius" J Hand Surg. November 2009. Vol. 34A. No. 9. Pp. 1736-1738.

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