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A distal radius fracture, or a broken wrist, is a common condition and is the most frequently broken upper extremity bone. In the U.S. a broken wrist makes up one of every 10 broken bones.


Distal Radius Fracture (Broken Wrist) Definition

You likely want to know what is a distal radius fracture (broken wrist)? Your radius is one of two of your bones in your forearm that is found on your thumb side. Your distal radius is the part of your radius attached to your wrist joint. When your radius breaks near your wrist, it's referred to as a distal radius fracture.

The break typically occurs when you fall on a flexed or outstretched hand. It could also occur in:

  • A fall on an outstretched upper extremity (arm)
  • A bike accident
  • A car accident
  • Another sports activity

Distal radius fractures can be isolated, meaning there aren't any other fractures involved. They could also occur along with a distal ulna (small finger side forearm bone) fracture. The injury is referred to as an ulnar styloid fracture.



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How to Tell if Your Wrist is Broken

You may be asking yourself, "what does a broken wrist look like?"  Like most fractures, signs your wrist might be broke are often obvious. 

Intense pain is the most common sign of a distal radius break. The pain can become so bad that it becomes almost impossible for you to move your injured wrist or hand.

Swelling is also a characteristic of a broken wrist.  You may experience limited finger movement or a tingling sensation in your fingertips.

Depending on how severe your fracture is, you might even experience a physical manifestation of the break. For example, your wrist might look deformed if your fracture is displaced.


Symptoms of a Distal Radius Fracture

Distal radius fracture symptoms might include:                                                                                                                 

  • Immediate, sharp pain in your wrist at the time of your accident or fall which could be accompanied by a sensation or sound of a snap
  • Wrist tenderness and swelling, which starts suddenly and can continue to become worse
  • Inability to move your hand or wrist or numbness
  • Deformity of your wrist or forearm. A Colles fracture is the most common form of distal radius fracture and produces a distinct sign referred to as the "dinner fork deformity." When you view it from the side, your wrist looks like an overturned fork
  • Bruising of your forearm and wrist
  • Inability to perform squeezing or gripping actions


Common Causes of a Fractured Wrist

Direct distal radius fracture causes can be due to various factors, such as:

  • Falling onto your outstretched upper extremity (arm) is the most common cause of this type of fracture. You can experience this type of fall while playing sports or completing daily activities.
  • Your age can also contribute to this type of injury. People who are 60 years old or older experience these fractures more frequently than others. Fractures in the elderly may be due to some type of health condition like weak bones (osteoporosis).
  • Bone disorders. People suffering from Osteoporosis or another bone disorder have a higher chance of breaking their wrist, even with minor falls. Their bones become weak, making them particularly fragile, leaving them susceptible to distal radius fractures. 


When Should I Seek Help From an Orthopedic Surgeon?

If you believe you have a distal radius fracture then it's vital you seek medical attention from an orthopedic surgeon right away. If you leave this injury untreated, a wrist fracture could lead to further complications with long-term effects. 


Treatment for Distal Radius Fracture 

If your broken wrist isn't in the right position for healing, the doctor might have to reset it. This can be fairly painful, therefore it's typically performed with anesthesia. You will receive painkillers after that to help with the pain.

You'll also likely need:

  • A splint that you may wear for up to six weeks keeps the fracture in position while the bone heals. 
  • Routine X-rays to ensure your wrist is healing properly.


Surgery Options for a Distal Radius Fracture (Broken Wrist) 

If you have an unstable, displaced, or complex distal radius fracture, it will probably need a surgical approach to set and keep the fracture in place throughout the healing period. 


Wrist fracture repair with Volar Plate 

This is an outpatient procedure the surgeon performs when appropriate. If you experience an open distal radius fracture where your bone comes through your skin, the surgeon will need to perform this procedure urgently to decrease the risk of infection.

When preparing for the procedure, the surgeon will position you to access the wrist. The anesthesiologist will frequently administer an ultrasound guided regional block for post operative pain control.  They'll clean and sterilize this area and administer an anesthetic.

The orthopedic surgeon will create an incision along your forearm's palm side to get to the end of the radius. The surgeon will gently and carefully realign your broken bones and position a metal plate that's shaped for fitting the contour of the distal radius. The orthopedic surgeon will put screws through the plate and stabilize the distal radius fracture.

Once the procedure is complete, the surgeon will close the incision with sutures and bandage your wrist and place it in a splint. You'll go home the same day. You might have to wear a removable splint after your swelling goes down from the procedure. You'll likely also need hand therapy.

Recovery Time for a Distal Radius Fracture (Broken Wrist) with Volar Plate

While it could take up to a year for you to experience a complete recovery from distal radius fracture repair with volar plate, you should probably be able to get back to your regular activities after around two months. You may require therapy from an occupational therapist to help restore the range of motion and strength in your wrist and hand.


Therapy for a broken wrist

You're are probably asking: do you need therapy after broken wrist. The answer to this is after distal radius fracture surgery, you might require therapy to improve and strengthen your wrist flexibility. You may begin your therapy after your first visit after surgery to regain wrist strength and function. 


Contact Coastal Orthopedics to get your Appointment

When should I seek help from an orthopedic surgeon near you? At Coastal Orthopedics, in Corpus Christi Texas we understand injuries occur. But, this doesn't mean they have to get in your way of living a healthy and active lifestyle. Whether you fish, sail, hunt, surf or play sports, we're dedicated to getting you back to your active lifestyle as soon as possible. Contact our office today by calling (361) 529-9255 or visit our website to set up your appointment.  


Learn more about Rob Williams, MD