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An ulnar gutter splint is a flexible splint that is used to support, stabilize and immobilize dislocations and fractures of the hands, fingers or wrists. After an injury to the hands, fingers or wrists, immobilization by splinting or casting is necessary in order to allow the bones and tissues to heal properly. If the fracture is severe and splinting or casting is not medically feasible, then surgery might be required, using pins, plates and screws, or even an external fixation device, to repair the fractured bone. An ulnar gutter splint typically extends along the ulna bone, the bone on the pinkie finger's side of the forearm, partially covering the arm from just below the elbow to the palm or pinkie.
The specific type of dislocation or fracture of the affected extremity will determine whether a splint or cast is the most appropriate treatment. For many wrist fractures or dislocations, an ulnar gutter splint is the method of preferred treatment rather than a cast. This is because a splint is flexible and can expand for tissue swelling.
Ulnar gutter splints are formed around the fractured area using gauze, pads, bandage clips or tape and then wrapped with an elastic bandage. This type of splinting is less restrictive than a cast. A cast is inflexible, usually made of fiberglass or plaster and could cause serious damage if applied too tightly or if the injured tissue continues to swell.
A very common fracture to the wrist area is a Colles’ fracture, also known as a distal radius fracture, which occurs when a person tries to break a fall with outstretched hands. Elderly people are extremely vulnerable to this type of wrist fracture and might require medical splint management, casting or even surgery. Automobile accidents and sports-related injuries also might result in a Colles’ fracture and, if not too severe, can be treated effectively with an ulnar gutter splint.
Symptoms of a wrist fracture or Colles’ fracture include pain and swelling around or near the fractured area. Grasping or lifting objects might be difficult or entirely impossible. If the break is severe, a deformity might be seen at the fracture site.
After a splint is applied, it is important to follow medical advice in order to expedite the healing process. The injured extremity should be kept in an elevated position, because this will help to reduce the pain. Initially, keeping ice packs on top of the ulnar gutter splint in the area of the fracture will help to reduce swelling and wrist pain.
Keeping the hand higher than the elbow when resting or reclining also will decrease pain. When walking, the ulnar gutter splint should be supported and elevated. If recommended by the physician, the arm should be kept in a sling for further immobilization.
Common problems after a wrist injury include finger or wrist stiffness, wrist pain or even loss of grip strength. Recovery times vary, but a typical recovery time is six to 12 months after removal of the splint. After the splint is removed, low-impact exercises might be recommended by the treating physician in order to regain flexibility and strength of the fractured wrist.