Distal Radius Fracture (Broken Wrist)

The wrist is one of the most commonly broken bones in the body. A wrist fracture or broken wrist refers to a "distal radius fracture." Wrist fractures may occur during trauma, such as a car wreck, or during falls. They happen more easily with age as bone density decreases.

What You Need To Know About Distal Radius Fracture

What is a Distal Radius Fracture?

A distal radius fracture is a break of the radius bone at the wrist. The radius is on the same side of the hand as the thumb and the larger of the two bones that connect the wrist to the elbow. The other bone is called the ulna. The radius forms a joint with two of the carpal bones, the scaphoid and the lunate. This part of the joint allows wrist flexion and extension and side-to-side motion. The end of the bone, near the joint surface, is called the metaphysis. This area has weaker bone than in the shaft and is more prone to fracture.

A fracture of the distal radius the end nearest the wrist is one of the most common types of fracture. Distal radius fracture may be just one part of a complex injury that involves other tissues, nerves, and bones of the wrist. The radius and ulna have a joint between them, the distal radioulnar joint, that allows the forearm to rotate. Additionally, a small projection at the end of the ulna called the ulnar styloid is often broken in these injuries.

Finding the best wrist fracture treatment starts with a visit to Resurgens Hand and Wrist Center. Schedule an appointment now for a consultation with an expert near you now!

What Causes Distal Radius Fracture?

A distal radius fracture is typically caused by direct trauma to the wrist. Common types of trauma include a fall on an outstretched hand, an automobile or bike accident, or a forceful blow to the wrist during a contact sport such as football.

The onset of osteoporosis can make older adults susceptible to wrist fractures, even from relatively minor falls, and individuals over the age of 60 experience broken wrists more often than others. Muscle loss from poor nutrition, illicit drug use, or the onset of menopause can also contribute to distal ulnar fractures.

Distal Radius Fracture Symptoms

If the injury is extremely painful, the wrist is deformed or numb, or the fingers are not pink or become progressively numb, it may be necessary to go to the emergency room. If the injury is not very painful and the wrist is not deformed, it may be possible to wait until the next day to see a doctor. The wrist should be elevated and may be protected with a splint until a doctor can examine it. Ice may help ease any pain and swelling.

Symptoms of a distal radius fracture may include:

  • Immediate sharp pain after the accident takes place. A sound or sensation of bone breaking may also be observed.

  • Abnormal swelling and tenderness in the wrist that gets progressively worse.

  • Numbness of the hand or fingers.

  • Deformed forearm or wrist.

How is A Distal Radius Fracture Diagnosed?

The first part of assessing a broken wrist involves physical exam to document tenderness directly over the distal radius along with swelling, bruising, and pain with wrist movement.

Advanced imaging, like CT scan or MRI, is sometimes required for diagnosis, but these may be used to give better information about the fracture pattern or to look for other injuries if suspected.

Distal Radius Fracture Treatment

Distal radius fractures can range from simple, clean breaks to severe fractures with multiple bone fragments, and the treatment of distal radius fractures varies based upon fracture alignment, involvement of the joint surface or nerves, and the patient's age, occupation, and activity level.

Wrist fracture treatment options are designed to hold the broken radius in its correct position while it heals. The bones can then be stabilized with a cast, splint, or brace that may cover only the wrist and forearm or may extend to above the elbow. If the bones cannot be realigned with this method, surgery may be required.

Non-Surgical Treatment

If the fracture ends are out of alignment, the physician may need to perform a procedure called a closed reduction to realign them. The wrist can then be set with a removable brace, splint, or cast, while it heals. A cast will remain on for up to six weeks, and once it is removed, physical therapy can begin and will help you to regain proper wrist function and strength. If the bones cannot be realigned by closed reduction, surgery may be required.

Surgical Treatment

If surgery is required, it can be done with wires, an external fixator (pins through the skin of the forearm and hand with a bar linking the pins), or plates and screws. Plates and screws are the most common method of wrist fracture treatment.

Surgery is typically outpatient and can be done either at a surgery center or at a hospital. After surgery, the wrist may be splinted or casted for several weeks, followed by protection in a removable brace. Elevation and the use of ice or ice packs can help with swelling and with pain control. Finger stiffness can be a problem, so the fingers should be exercised beginning the day after surgery to help prevent stiffness.

Post-surgery recovery is monitored with x-rays, and full fracture healing typically takes around 3 months, though most patients can begin using the hand for light activities long before the fracture is fully healed. Physical therapy is key to achieving the best possible recovery after surgery.

You deserve the best wrist fracture treatment available. Schedule an appointment with the wrist fracture experts at Resurgens Orthopaedics now!

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