What Is It?

Surgery to repair a distal radius fracture aims to reposition the broken portion of bone back where it belongs, and keep it from shifting out of place until it has enough time to heal properly.

The radius is the larger of two bones that make up your forearm. The far end of the radius that extends into the wrist joint is referred to as the distal end.

Why Is It Done?

While distal radius fractures almost always occur within an inch of the wrist joint, breaks come in many specific shapes and sizes. One of the most common breaks, a Colles fracture, occurs when the broken end of the radius tilts upward, giving your wrist a visibly distorted appearance. Fractures are also classified by whether the break extends into the wrist joint or not. Intra-articular fractures extend into the wrist joint, while Extra-articular fractures do not. In more serious injuries, the fractured portion of the distal radius can break the skin (open fracture), or even break into more than two pieces (comminuted fracture). Fracture classification is very important to surgeons as treatment options vary depending on the type of break. Fractures that involve portions of the wrist joint, or in which the broken portion of the bone is displaced from its original position are typically more difficult to repair.

Osteoporosis breaks down bones and can lead to distal radius fractures in many individuals. Most fractures are caused by a fall onto an outstretched arm. Osteoporosis can cause a fairly minor fall to result in a broken wrist, but even completely healthy bones can break frequently with enough force.

A fracture to your distal radius would cause immediate pain, tenderness, bruising and significant swelling. It’s also common for the wrist to hang or bend oddly.

How Is It Done?

Depending on the type of fracture involved, your age, and your activity level, there are many treatment options for a distal radius fracture. If the broken portion of bone is in a good resting position, doctors will typically apply a plaster cast to hold the bone in place until it heals. In fractures where broken bone fragments are slightly out of alignment, doctors may use a non-surgical technique known as reduction to re-align the broken bone before applying a cast. Casts are commonly removed after 6 weeks when patients begin physical therapy. Prior to treatment, your wrist is protected with a splint and an ice pack is applied immediately. During diagnosis, doctors will confirm the classification of your specific break through X-ray and then make an appropriate treatment suggestion.

Surgery becomes a necessity when bone fragments are so far out of place that corrections cannot be maintained in a cast. The surgical procedure involves an incision that allows direct access to the broken portion of bone. Upon repositioning the fracture, metal plates, pins, and screws are often used to hold the bone in a correct position while it heals. When dealing with Open fractures, surgery is required within 8 hours of the injury. Prior to realigning the fracture, exposed tissue and bone is thoroughly cleaned and antibiotics are provided to help avoid infection.

Most patients return to any and all former activities following a distal radius fracture, but each fracture is unique and carries its own recovery timetable. Wrist stiffness is common following surgery, and will generally loosen within a few months. Physical therapy can help expedite the recovery process, but most patients are able to comfortably return to all types of activities within 3 to 6-months.