A fracture of the distal radius is commonly referred to as a broken wrist. The radius, the larger of the two forearm bones connects the hand to the elbow. It’s unique function leaves it especially susceptible to injury, as it bears the overwhelming majority of weight and force when falling on an outstretched hand. It is so susceptible to injury that, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the radius is the most commonly broken bone in the arm.
The end closest to the hand (distal radius) is especially susceptible to fracture because it comprises approximately 80% of the wrist joint surface and bears nearly the full load from a fall on an outstretched hand.
To find out more about broken wrist surgery or to schedule an appointment with top Beverly Hills orthopaedic surgeon Sonu Ahluwalia, M.D., call us today at 310.430.1310.
One of the most common distal radius fractures is a Colles fracture, in which the broken fragment of the radius tilts backward. It most commonly occurs when falling on an outstretched hand, where the hand is extended backward on the wrist. This fracture is named after an Irish surgeon, Abraham Colles, who first described the injury in 1814. Colles stated that after a distal radius fracture, full freedom of movement and function can be restored, a belief still shared today by orthopaedic surgeons.
Signs and Symptoms of Broken Wrist
Following trauma or injury to the wrist there are several distinct signs and symptoms that can point to a fracture of the distal radius. When the wrist bone is broken, you are likely to notice:
- Decreased ability to use the hand and wrist
- The appearance of a crooked or deformed wrist
A fracture of the distal radius can be differentiated from fractures of the small wrist bones by obvious physical deformities in the wrist after an injury to the area. When there is a fracture of the small wrist bones, such as the scaphoid, there is unlikely to be any visible deformities.
Diagnosis of Distal Radius Fracture
The first thing your doctor will do is take a thorough medical history, beginning with your wrist pain. You will be required to share details regarding the incident that led to the injury so that an accurate diagnosis can be formed. It will also be important to share details regarding your past medical history including allergies, previous injuries, and any previous surgeries you have undergone. The physical exam will focus on the injured wrist. Obvious deformities will be noted, but pain experienced during range of motion tests can also help point to the correct diagnosis.
Imaging studies may be used to confirm the suspected diagnosis of a distal radius fracture. These may include X-rays, a CT scan, or MRI. A CT scan can assess the alignment of the joint while an MRI may be required to rule out injuries to ligaments or the smaller bones of the wrist.
Treatment of Distal Radius Fracture
Treatment of a broken wrist requires careful consideration of several factors, including age, activity level, hobbies, occupation, hand dominance, prior injuries, and other medical problems. Regardless of such factors, treatment of broken wrist bones follows one basic rule: the broken pieces must be put back into position and prevented from moving out of place until they are healed.
Although casting may be an option for younger patients with a stable fracture, it is common to use surgery to correct the fracture in adults. This is often done through the use of screws, plates, pins, and/or frames that hold the bone in place. A common form of internal fixation involves an incision being made over the fracture site and the use of a stainless steel plate to re-align the bones.
Recovery Following Broken Wrist Surgery
Following your broken wrist surgery, you will be monitored in a recovery room until you are cleared for discharge. To ensure an optimal recovery, Dr. Ahluwalia will give you specific instructions to follow. These instructions may include prescription medication, activity limitations, and physical therapy.
Immobilization of the affected arm is commonly indicated for up to six weeks after wrist surgery in Beverly Hills. Depending on the severity of your fracture, earlier movement may be advised to help avoid stiffness. Physical therapy is also often indicated to help regain full strength and range of motion in the arm. It should be noted that complete recovery may take up to a year for some patients.
To schedule a consultation with Dr. Sonu Ahluwalia, call today.