Background Some risk factors for low-energy wrist fracture have been identified. However, self-reported measures such as health-related quality of life (HRQOL) have not been examined as potential risk factors for wrist fracture. The aims of this study were to compare HRQOL prior to a low-energy wrist fracture in elderly patients (≥ 50 years) with HRQOL in age- and sex-matched controls, and to explore the association between HRQOL and wrist fracture after adjusting for known risk factors for fracture such as age, weight, osteoporosis and falls. Methods Patients with a low-energy wrist fracture (n = 181) and age- and sex-matched controls (n = 181) were studied. Shortly after fracture (median 10 days), patients assessed their HRQOL before fracture using the Short Form 36 (SF-36). Statistical tests included t tests and multivariate logistic regression analysis. Results Several dimensions of HRQOL were significantly associated with wrist fracture. The direction of the associations with wrist fracture varied between the different sub-dimensions of the SF-36. After controlling for demographic and clinical variables, higher scores on general health (odds ratio (OR) = 1.31, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.10–1.56), bodily pain (OR = 1.18, 95% CI = 1.03–1.34) and mental health (OR = 1.39, 95% CI = 1.09–1.79) were related to an increased chance of being a wrist fracture patient rather than a control. In contrast, higher scores on physical role limitation (OR = 0.87, 95% CI = 0.79–0.95) and social function (OR = 0.65, 95% CI 0.53–0.80) decreased this chance. Significant associations with wrist fracture were also found for living alone (OR = 1.91, 95% CI 1.07–3.4), low body mass index (BMI) (OR = 0.92, 95% CI 0.86–0.98), osteoporosis (OR = 3.30, 95% CI 1.67–6.50) and previous falls (OR = 2.01, 95% CI 1.16–3.49). Conclusion Wrist fracture patients perceive themselves to be as healthy as the controls before fracture. Our data indicate that patients with favourable and unfavourable HRQOL measures may be at increased risk of wrist fracture.