Dr. Mark E. Pruzansky
Dr. Jason S. Pruzansky
975 Park Avenue New York, NY 10028

Distal Radius Fracture Treatments

Distal radius fractures, commonly known as wrist fractures, can impact daily life significantly. Proper treatment is essential for optimal healing and long-term wrist function. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and a range of treatment options for distal radius fractures to provide you with the knowledge needed to navigate this injury effectively.

Distal Radius Fractures Explained

A distal radius fracture is a specific type of wrist injury that occurs when the distal end of the radius bone at the thumb side of the wrist joint breaks. This area of the radius is especially vulnerable to fractures due to its position and the forces it experiences during everyday activities and falls on the outstretched hand (FOOSH). The wrist joint is a complex structure formed by the articulation of the distal radius bone with a group of carpal bones. This joint allows for flexion, extension, rotation, sideway bending, and a combination of intricate movements necessary for performing various tasks.

The distal radius is the larger of the two forearm bones that meet at the wrist. Distal radius fractures occur when it breaks near the wrist joint. These fractures can result from various causes, including falls (FOOSH), sports injuries, and accidents. Understanding the anatomy and mechanics of these fractures is crucial for selecting the appropriate treatment approach.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Distal Radius Fractures

Recognizing the symptoms of a distal radius fracture is the first step toward proper treatment. Common symptoms include pain, swelling, bruising, and deformity of the wrist. However, these symptoms can sometimes overlap with other wrist injuries, making an accurate diagnosis crucial. Wrist surgeons such as Dr. Mark E. Pruzansky and Dr. Jason S. Pruzasnky rely on physical examinations and medical imaging, such as X-rays and CT scans, to confirm the presence of a fracture and assess its extent. Early and accurate diagnosis is essential for effective treatment.

Non-Surgical Treatment Options for Distal Radius Fractures

In many cases, distal radius fractures can be effectively managed without wrist surgery, particularly when the bones are well-aligned:

  • Immobilization: One of the primary goals of treatment is to immobilize the wrist to facilitate proper healing. This is typically achieved using splints, or casts. The duration of immobilization depends on the type and severity of the fracture.
  • Pain Management: Fractures can be painful. Wrist surgeons may recommend over-the-counter pain medications or prescribe stronger pain relief options to manage discomfort during the healing process.
  • Positioning: Resting the affected wrist, elevation above the heart, and following home care instructions are essential components of non-surgical treatment. Practicing proper techniques for daily activities can help prevent further strain.

Surgical Treatment Options for Distal Radius Fractures

While many distal radius fractures can heal without surgery, surgical intervention may be necessary in certain cases:

Indications for Surgery

Surgical treatment is typically considered when the fracture is severely displaced, unstable, or involves multiple pieces. Joint surface fractures require accurate alignment to optimize motion and minimize pain. It may also be recommended for fractures associated with other wrist injuries or when non-surgical treatments have not yielded the desired results.

Surgical Procedures for Distal Radius Fractures

Wrist surgeons may employ various techniques to treat distal radius fractures, including:

  • Closed Reduction: The surgeon manupuls the break into a better position using local anesthetic and then immobilizes it.
  • Open Reduction and Internal Fixation (ORIF): ORIF involves making an incision to access the fractured bone. The surgeon then realigns the fragments and uses screws, plates, or wires to stabilize them. This procedure is often used for more complex fractures.
  • External Fixation: In some cases, an external fixation device may be used. This involves the insertion of pins or wires into the fractured bone, which are then connected to an external frame to stabilize the bones from the outside.

Recovery and Rehabilitation From a Distal Radius Fracture

Regardless of whether the fracture is treated surgically or non-surgically, the path to recovery follows a similar trajectory:

  • Post-Treatment Care: Following the prescribed treatment plan is essential. This includes wearing casts or splints, taking medications as directed, and following instructions for home care, rest, and elevation.
  • Physical Therapy: Rehabilitation plays a vital role in regaining wrist strength, mobility, and function. A physical therapist will develop a tailored plan that may include exercises and functional activities aimed at restoring wrist functionality.

Potential Complications and Long-Term Outlook

While distal radius fractures are typically treatable, complications can arise:

  • Malunion: This occurs when the fracture heals improperly, resulting in misalignment of the bone fragments.
  • Nonunion: The fracture may not heal adequately, leading to ongoing pain and dysfunction.
  • Pain: Some individuals may experience wrist pain, arthritis, or stiffness even after treatment.

Regular follow-up appointments and adherence to treatment and rehabilitation plans can help identify and address these complications early.

Prevention and Risk Reduction

Preventing distal radius fractures, especially in high-risk activities, is possible:

  • Protective Measures: Wear appropriate wrist protection, such as wrist guards or braces, when participating in activities with a higher risk of wrist injuries, such as sports or manual labor.
  • Technique Matters: Learn and practice proper techniques and ergonomics in activities that involve the wrist, such as lifting heavy objects.
  • Safe Environment: Maintain a safe environment in your daily life to minimize the risk of falls or accidents that could result in wrist injuries.
  • Rest and Strengthening: Allow for adequate rest during repetitive tasks and engage in exercises that strengthen wrist and forearm muscles, and improve balance, to reduce the risk of injury.

Do You Think You Have a Distal Radius Fracture?

If you suspect a wrist injury, consult with a wrist surgeon at HSSI immediately for accurate diagnosis and guidance on the best treatment approach. 

Distal radius fractures are common injuries that require prompt and appropriate treatment for optimal healing and long-term wrist function. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial, and the choice between surgical and non-surgical treatments depends on the specific characteristics of the fracture. Rehabilitation and adherence to treatment plans play a vital role in regaining wrist function. 

Prevention is key, and taking protective measures and practicing safe techniques can significantly reduce the risk of distal radius fractures.