When you shake someone’s hand, grab your vehicle door handle, or use your arm in any other way, you are using your forearm’s radius bone, the distal portion of which meets your wrist joint. The two primary reasons for a distal radius fracture are osteoporosis, which eats away at bone health to help facilitate breaks, and accidental and unexpected falls resulting in awkward landings, such as those in which you overextend or fall on your arm or otherwise put your arm in an unusual position. Swelling, sensitivity, bruising and pain in your forearm, as well as wrist deformity, are all signs of this type of injury. In some circumstances, your nerve health may be at risk due to a break and immediate steps, including a trip to the ER, should be taken if you notice numbness or paleness in your wrist area.
When repairing a damaged distal radius, your provider has several different treatment options to choose from, depending on the fracture type and the patient’s age and ability to remain inactive during the recovery process. There are several non-surgical treatments for stabilizing clean or readjusted breaks, including splinting over a multi-day period and then transitioning to casting after swelling reduction, or casting for up to two months (depending on injury severity), with follow-up X-rays to monitor the recovery progress. General elevation and icing techniques and anti-inflammatory medicine intake, as well as doctor-recommended exercises, may also supplement these treatments. These methods will allow most patients to begin physical therapy within two months of the injury. If the broken bone(s) cannot be realigned and secured from moving during the recovery process, surgical treatment is often required.
For those with significant fractures that require surgical reconstruction, prosthetic materials, including plates, pins and screws, will be inserted to the readjusted fracture area in order to facilitate full recovery. This surgery is facilitated through an incision that creates direct access for your physician to the injured area so the bone can be properly aligned. After this step is taken, one or more of metal pins, artificial plates and screws, a cast, and/or an external fixator affixed outside your body will secure the alignment so the bone(s) can appropriately heal. Surgery within eight hours of the break is also required for fractures that protrude from the skin (an open fracture) in order to ensure complete healing. In the event of an open fracture, after the area is completely cleaned, an external fixator or prosthetic pins, plates or screws will be used to hold the healing bones in place as well as to help damaged tissue heal.
Did You Know? Distal radius fractures represent nearly one-fifth of all elder-age fractures and one-quarter of all pediatric-age fractures. Both of those age groups are most susceptible to this type of injury, which is on the rise among each population.
With frequent physical therapy, most wrist fractures fully heal within eight weeks to six months, depending on each patient’s individual factors and the corresponding difficulty of surgery, including whether their break affects the wrist joint area (intra-articular fractures) or not (extra-articular fractures) or resulted in multiple fragments (comminuted fractures) or is an open fracture. In order to facilitate the recovery process, patients should also avoid strenuous activity immediately after surgery and follow their provider’s instructions.