A broken wrist, particularly a distal radius fracture, is one of the most frequent fractures in the body. According to studies, it makes up to 25% of pediatric and 20% of geriatric fractures.
What is a Distal Radius Fracture?
The distal radius is a bone in the forearm. The radius is the larger of the two bones in the region, and the distal portion of it towards the wrist is known as the distal end. As a result, a fracture of the radius bone near to or at the wrist is referred to as a Distal Radius Fracture.
A distal radius fracture is a break in the lower arm bone, just above the wrist. The radius is one of the two bones in your forearm. It runs from your elbow to your wrist. A distal radius fracture is most commonly caused by a fall onto an outstretched hand. Other causes include: direct blow to the forearm, twisting injury, or stress fracture (a tiny crack in the bone).
Causes of a Distal Radius Fracture
There are many possible causes of a distal radius fracture. The most common cause is a fall onto an outstretched hand, which often happens when people try to break their fall. This type of fracture is also common in contact sports, such as football and rugby. Other possible causes include:
- Direct blow to the forearm, such as from a fall or being hit by a hard object
- Indirect forces, such as when the arm is twisted
- Medical conditions that can weaken the bones, such as osteoporosis
- Use of corticosteroid medications, which can make the bones more brittle
- Infection in the bone
- Trauma to the blood vessels or nerves in the forearm
- Cancer that has spread to the bones
In some cases, the cause of the fracture is unknown. This is more common in older adults, who may have a distal radius fracture from a fall or other minor injury that would not normally cause a fracture in a younger person.
Symptoms of a Distal Radius Fracture
The symptoms of a distal radius fracture vary depending on the type of fracture. Most commonly, there is intense pain in the forearm and wrist, and it may be difficult to move the arm. There may also be swelling, bruising, and stiffness in the arm and hand. If there is nerve or blood vessel damage, there may be numbness or tingling in the arm and hand. In some cases, there may be a visible deformity in the forearm.
Diagnosis of a Distal Radius Fracture
A distal radius fracture can be diagnosed with a physical examination and imaging tests, such as X-ray or MRI scan. During the physical examination, the doctor will check for swelling, bruising, and pain in the forearm and wrist. They will also check for any deformity, numbness, or tingling in the arm or hand. Imaging tests can help to confirm the diagnosis and determine the type of fracture.
Complications of a Distal Radius Fracture
- Infection in the bone
- Nerve damage
- Blood vessel damage
- Arthritis in the joint where the bones are fractured
- Delayed healing or nonunion of the bones
- Joint stiffness
- Loss of range of motion in the arm or hand
- Chronic pain
Treatments for a Distal Radius Fracture
There are many possible treatments for a distal radius fracture. The most common treatment is immobilization in a cast or splint. Surgery may be necessary in some cases, such as if the bones are not aligned correctly or if there is damage to the blood vessels or nerves. Physical therapy may also be recommended to help regain strength and range motion in the arm and hand.
The majority of distal radius fractures can be treated without surgery. The main goal of treatment is to keep the bones in alignment while they heal. This is typically done with a cast or splint. The arm will be immobilized for several weeks to allow the bone to heal properly. Pain medication may be prescribed to help relieve pain and swelling during this time.
Surgery may be necessary if the bones are not aligned correctly or if there is damage to the blood vessels or nerves. The type of surgery depends on the severity of the fracture and other factors. Surgery may involve placing metal rods, plates, or screws into the bone to hold it in place while it heals. In some cases, part of the bone may need to be removed. Physical therapy will typically be recommended after surgery to help regain strength and range of motion.
Physical therapy may also be recommended to help regain strength and range of motion in the arm and hand. Physical therapists will typically have you do a variety of exercises that will stretch and strengthen the muscles and tendons around the wrist and forearm. You may also need physical therapy if surgery is required to help you regain the full function of your arm.
Distal Radius Fracture Recovery
A Distal Radius Fracture can be painful for a few days or weeks, depending on the extent of the injury. Most over-the-counter pain relievers work well at alleviating discomfort. To relieve inflammation in the wrist, ibuprofen and acetaminophen may be administered. Applying ice packs to the wrist and elevating it above the heart can also help to relax soreness.
Even after therapy, most patients report some wrist stiffness and discomfort. This generally goes away a month or two after the cast is removed. Some residual stiffness may remain for about 2 years in a severe accident, such as a motorcycle crash. The typical duration from the time of injury to full recovery is about a year.
If you or a loved one are dealing with a distal radius fracture, we hope this article has been of some help. At The Orthopaedic & Pain Practice, the team of specialists is there to provide you with the best possible care and treatment for your injury. Contact them today to schedule an appointment and get started on your road to recovery.