The radius is the most commonly broken bone in the arm. The break usually happens when you fall and land on your outstretched hands. It is the larger of the two forearm bones on the thumb side.
A broken wrist usually causes pain and swelling, and frequently causes a deformity, causing the wrist to look bent. See your doctor for a diagnosis. The doctor will take an X-ray of the wrist.
When you have a distal radius fracture, you will almost always have a history of a fall or some other kind of trauma. You will usually have pain and swelling in the forearm or wrist. You may have a deformity in the shape of the wrist if the fracture is bad enough. The presence of bruising (black and blue discoloration) is common. You should contact your doctor, or proceed to the emergency department for further evaluation of the injury. You may want to protect the wrist in a neutral position with a splint and apply ice to the wrist and elevate it until you get to the doctor’s office.
There are many treatment choices. Your orthopedic surgeon will describe what options are right for you. The choice depends on many factors, such as the nature of your fracture, your age, and activity level.
The following is a general discussion of the possible options, just so you have a better idea of what your orthopedic surgeon might recommend for you.
If the bone is in a good position, your doctor may apply a cast until the bone heals. If the fracture is out of position or displaced, your orthopedic surgeon may suggest correcting the deformity. After the bone is properly aligned, and is considered a stable pattern, a splint or cast may be placed on your arm to hold it in place. A splint is usually used for the first few days, to allow for a small amount of normal swelling. A cast is usually added a few days to a week or so later, after the swelling goes down. X-rays are usually taken at each visit to ensure proper alignment and healing of the fracture. After the fracture shows good healing the cast is usually removed and a removable splint is used for support. Sometimes physical therapy is needed to help improve motion and function of the injured wrist.
Treatment Options: Surgical
If your orthopedic surgeon feels that the position of the bone is not acceptable for the future function of your arm, and that it cannot be corrected or kept in place in a cast, an operation may be recommended. There are many ways of performing surgery to improve the alignment of the bone. In the operating room, your orthopedic surgeon may choose to hold the bone in the correct position with only a cast, or by inserting metal pins, a plate and screws, an external fixator, or any combination of these techniques.
What can I expect while my bone is healing?
Many patients find that using ice, elevation (keeping their arm up above their heart), and simple, non-prescription medications for pain relief are all that are needed. Casts and splints must be kept intact and dry. Please refer to our “Cast Care Instructions” under patient education on the website if you did not receive one at your visit.
What can I expect after my bone has healed?
Everyone wants to know, “Can I return to all my former activities, and when?” This is a great question that also seems rather simple and straightforward, but the answer is complex. You will need to discuss your case with your doctor for the specifics, but some generalizations can be made.
Many distal radius fractures in people over 60 are due to osteoporosis (decreased density of the bones) if the fall was relatively minor (a fall from a standing position). Osteoporosis is a factor in as many as 250,000 wrist fractures. It has been suggested that people who suffer a wrist fracture may need to be screened for osteoporosis, especially if they have other risk factors. The best prevention is to maintain good bone health and avoid osteoporosis and falls.