What is a Distal Radius Fracture?

The most common type of broken wrist is a distal radius fracture, which is a break in the radius bone at the end closest to the wrist. The radius is the larger of the two bones of the forearm. A fracture of this kind is almost always the result of a fall or an accident. Wrist fractures usually occur when someone lands on their outstretched hand attempting to break a fall. Patients generally experience significant pain, swelling, and bruising; in some cases the wrist will appear unnaturally bent. If you believe you have fractured your wrist, consult your doctor as soon as possible. If the doctor’s office is closed and the injury is very painful, you have deformity along with numbness, you should head to the emergency room. If you cannot be examined immediately, it is important to ice the injury site and stabilize the wrist as much as possible.

If a fracture is suspected, your doctor will order X-rays to determine the type and degree of fracture and the kind of treatment needed. Although a distal radius fracture usually occurs about an inch from the end of the bone, the break may extend into the joint, becoming an intra-articular fracture. The bone may also be broken in more than one place or the fractured bone may have broken the skin. Possibly, the adjoining smaller bone, the ulna, may also be broken.

If the the broken bone is in a good enough position, your doctor may simply apply a splint or cast to keep it stable during healing. If the fractured bone has a deformity, the doctor can correct this through a realignment process known as a reduction. This is often done in the office but occasionally the procedure is done in the operating room under anesthetic. This procedure, whether performed in the office or the operating room is called a closed reduction. A surgical procedure to correct the fracture that involves cutting into the arm, is called an open reduction.

Once the bone is properly in place, the doctor will place a splint or cast on the arm. Sometimes a splint is placed for the first few days to allow for some of the swelling to subside. After about six weeks the doctor will remove the cast and probably recommend physical therapy. For many patients recovering from a distal radius fracture, full recovery of the wrist may take up to a year with some aching and stiffness for two to three years.

In younger patients a break of this kind is usually caused by a sports injury or accident. In older patients, this sort of fracture sometimes happens after a relatively minor fall, which raises the possibility of thinning bones If you are a woman over 50 years of age, your doctor may order a DEXA or bone density scan in order to determine whether the break is related to osteoporosis. The best way to prevent bone fracture is to follow your doctor’s guidelines for maintaining good bone health.

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POSMC is a full-service medical facility specializing in the evaluation and treatment of orthopedic injuries. The practice is led by a group of 12 board-certified and fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeons and a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician. Contact us today!