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Distal Radius Fractures

What is a distal radius fracture?

A distal radius fracture is a specific term for a type of wrist fracture. This is the most common fracture of the wrist. The fracture can be simple with just two fragments or may shatter into many pieces (“comminuted”). Most fractures are “closed” (no break in the skin), but they can also be “open” (a break in the skin). Fractures may be even more complex if they involve the major wrist joint (an “intra-articular” fracture). Fractures may occur as part of a more complex injury where there has been damage to other tissues such as tendons, nerves and blood vessels.

What may indicate a distal radius fracture?

A wrist fracture is almost always the result of some type of trauma, most commonly a fall onto an outstretched hand. Weak bones (like those with osteoporosis) will break more easily.

When the wrist is broken, there is usually a great deal of pain and swelling. This pain and swelling can make it hard to move or use the hand and wrist, but some people can still move or use the hand or wrist even if there is a broken bone. The wrist may appear deformed because the bones are out of place. Depending on the position of the break, you may feel numbness or tingling in your fingers.  

How is a distal radius fracture diagnosed?

The diagnosis of a distal radius fracture is made by reviewing your medical history, a physical examination, and X-rays. Additional tests, such as a CT scan, may be required to get high level detail of the fracture and fracture fragments to determine the type of treatment that is necessary.

How is a distal radius fracture treated?

Generally speaking, the treatment will be guided by a few main factors:

  1. How “bad” the fracture is – whether it is displaced, unstable, or open.
  2. The “you” factors – your age, hobbies, functional demands, activities, your health, and what you do for work

If you suffer a “displaced” distal radius fracture, the first step may be to “reduce” or “set” the fracture. This may be done in the ER by an ER physician, or by one of our hand surgery specialists.  If the fracture is stable, a cast may be used to hold a fracture that has been set. Other fractures may benefit from surgery to put the broken bones back together and hold them in correct place. In some cases, a well performed operation can get you back to your normal activities faster and with better results than if you have a cast alone.

Will I need therapy following distal radius fracture treatment?

Regardless of whether the fracture is fixed or not, you will require some hand therapy to get the motion of your wrist back. The timing and duration of therapy will depend on whether or not you have surgery and how stable your fracture is. Hand therapy is very helpful to recover motion, strength and function.