Distal Radius Fracture Treatment
A distal radius fracture, or broken wrist, is a common orthopedic injury. The radius is the larger of two bones in the forearm, running down toward the thumb. The portion of the radius that meets the wrist joint is called the distal radius. When this section of the bone is fractured, it is called a distal radius fracture.
The break often occurs about an inch above the joint, and can be caused by a fall, when the patient lands on an outstretched hand. Wrist injuries also frequently occur because of car crashes or biking or other sporting accidents.
What are the Symptoms of a Distal Radius Fracture?
Symptoms of a distal radius fracture include:
- Pain, with tenderness when touched
- Bruising and swelling
- Deformity of the wrist, often bent in an unnatural position
How is a Distal Radius Fracture Treated?
When a distal radius fracture is suspected, x-rays will be ordered to determine the extent of the injury. X-rays can show if the bone is broken and, if so, they will show the extent of the fracture, including if there are any gaps between the broken bones (displacement) or whether there are many broken pieces of the bone that require surgery.
Following x-rays to confirm a fracture and examine the nature of the break, your doctor will outline treatment options. If the fracture is displaced, your doctor will perform a reduction, the medical term for putting the bone back into its correct, aligned position, before putting it in a plaster splint or cast. A reduction is performed under local anesthesia, meaning the wrist will be numbed, but the patient is awake.
Once the bone is in the correct position, a cast will be applied as the primary treatment until the bone heals. Usually, a cast will remain on for around six weeks. Sometimes doctors may wish to take x-rays at three weeks and six weeks following the injury if the fracture was reduced, to ensure the wrist is healing properly. After six weeks, a removable split will be provided for continued support and comfort. Physical therapy is typically recommended after the cast is removed to rebuild strength and proper wrist function.
Surgery for Distal Radius Fractures
Surgery may be recommended when the fractured bone is considered unstable or can’t be treated with a cast. Surgery is typically performed through an incision over the volar aspect of your wrist (the lower portion of your wrist where you can feel your pulse). The doctor will then put the pieces of bone back together, ensuring they will stay in place with one or more plates and screws. In certain cases, a second incision is required on the back side of your wrist to correct the alignment of the bone.
If there are many pieces of bone because of the injury, doctors may utilize a medical device called an external fixator to secure the fracture. An external fixator is adhered to the wrist from the outside of the body to stabilize the bones so that they can heal.
After surgery, a splint will be placed for two weeks, followed by a removable splint that will need to be worn for four more weeks. Following surgery, physical therapy is typically started after the two-week mark. Early motion is important following surgery, so following prescribed exercises is key for optimal recovery.
At the Orthopedic Associates of Northern California, we have extensive experience in treating a distal radius fracture and helping our patients regain their strength and mobility. If you need expert treatment for this injury, or another orthopedic injury, we invite you to contact us today.