A fracture of the radius, the larger of the two bones in your forearm and sometimes a fracture of the ulna, the smaller bone as well. The fracture usually occurs within one inch of the wrist end of the bone. One of the most common fractures is a Colles fracture in which the broken fragment of the radius tilts upward. The type of fracture is important as some are more difficult to treat. Other examples of distal radial fractures include:
- Intra-articular – a fracture that extends into the wrist joint;
- Extra-articular fracture – a fracture that does not extend into the wrist joint;
- Open fracture – when the fractured bone breaks the skin;
- Comminuted fracture – when the bone is broken into more than two pieces.
The most common cause is a fall onto an outstretched arm.
Immediate pain, tenderness, bruising and swelling around the wrist and lower forearm. In many cases the wrist hangs in an odd or bent way.
Non-surgical: If the broken bone is in a good position a plaster cast/splint may be applied until the bone heals. If the broken bone is out of alignment it may be necessary to re-align the broken bone fragments known as a ‘reduction’ if this can be done without having to open the skin it is known as a closed reduction’. This process is followed by application of a plaster cast/splint until the bone heals usually up to 6 weeks, followed by physical therapy to improve strength and range of motion.
Surgical: If the positioning of the broken bone cannot be corrected, surgery may be required. This typically involves making an incision to directly access the broken bones to improve alignment known as an ‘open reduction’. Surgery may also involve the use of plate and screws or metal pins to hold the bones in the correct alignment. A splint or cast followed by physical therapy is also used.
As the kinds of wrist fractures are so varied the treatment options are also varied, recovery depends on the type of fracture and method of treatment. Most people do return to all their former activities following this type of injury. The combination of pain relieving medications and physical therapy assist complete recovery which may take up to a year. There may still be some pain or stiffness following this especially with vigorous activity or in elderly or osteoporotic patients.