Wrist guards are widely used by inline skaters, basketball players, footballers, rugby competitors and snowboarders, but do they really protect injured wrists and forearms and do they help prevent injury in healthy athletes? To find out, researchers at the Brown University School of Medicine in Providence, Rhode Island, recently measured bone strain and energy absorption in the two key bones of the forearm (the radius and ulna) with and without wrist guards.
When cadaveric forearms were subjected to compressive forces simulating a fall, wrist guards reduced bone strain in the radius and absorbed some of the energy which would ordinarily pass directly through the bone during a fall. There was also a reduction in ulnar bone strain, but only when wrist guards contained plates which projected from the heel of the hand. Epidemiologic studies link wrist guards with a reduced risk of injury, and the Brown research suggests that wrist guards do indeed protect the wrist during relatively low-energy falls by 'load-sharing' with the wrists and arm bones and by absorbing impact energy
'The Effect of Wrist Guards on Bone Strain in the Distal Forearm,' The American Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 27(4), pp. 500-506, 1999.