Hand & Wrist: Distal Radius Fracture


To fracture a bone means its broken. A distal radius fracture occurs when a sudden force causes the radius bone, located on the thumb side of the wrist, to break. The wrist joint includes many bones and joints. The most commonly broken bone in the wrist is the radius bone. A distal radius fracture is also called a broken wrist.

Fractures may be closed or open (compound). An open fracture means a bone fragment has broken through the skin. There is a risk of infection with an open fracture.

Causes of Distal Radius Fracture

The most common cause of distal radius fracture is a fall onto an outstretched hand, either from slipping or tripping. You may fall forward or backward. 

Osteoporosis, a common condition where bones become brittle, increases the risk of a wrist fracture if you fall.




Signs and symptoms of an Distal Radius Fracture may include:
  • Pain at the wrist
  • Swelling and/or brusing at the wrist
  • Visible deformity at the wrist
  • Difficulty or inability to move or use the wrist or hand
Splinting or Casting

If the fracture is not displaced, or has been set and needs immobilization, a splint or cast is used. Splints may be pre-fabricated or custom-made and can usually be removed for hygiene purposes. Casts cannot be removed, may or may not be waterproof, and if not waterproof need to be covered with a plastic bag when showering or bathing.

Surgery

Fractures that are displaced or unstable may require surgery to properly set and/or stabilize the bone. Surgery may include using plates, screws, and/or pins. Your hand surgeon will determine the most appropriate form of fixation for your individual case.

Hand Therapy

Not all distal radius fractures require hand therapy to regain motion and function. However, people can benefit from and an appointment with a hand therapists for instruction in exercise to regain range of motion, strength and function. They equip patients with the materials and exercises they need to maximize recovery.

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distal radius fracture, TRIA Orthopaedic Center/Acute Injury Clinic
Wrist bones shown with a non-displaced fracture of the radius
Courtesy of American Society for Surgery of the Hand