Understanding a Distal Radius Fracture
A fracture is a broken bone. A fracture in the distal radius is a break in the lower end of the radius. This is the larger bone in the forearm. Because the break occurs near the wrist, it is often called a wrist fracture.
The bone may be cracked, or it may be broken into 2 or more pieces. The pieces of bone may be lined up or they may have moved out of place. Sometimes, the bone may break through the skin. Nearby nerves, tissues, and joints also may be damaged. Depending on the severity of the fracture, healing may take several months or longer.
What causes a distal radius fracture?
This type of fracture is most often caused from a fall on an outstretched hand. It can also be caused from a blow, accident, or sports injury.
Symptoms of a distal radius fracture
Symptoms can include pain, swelling, and bruising. If the bone breaks through the skin, external bleeding can also occur. The wrist may look crooked, deformed, or bent. It may be hard to move or use the arm, wrist, and hand for normal tasks and activities.
Treating a distal radius fracture
Treatment depends on how serious the fracture is. If needed, the bone is put back into place. This may be done with or without surgery. If surgery is needed, the surgeon may use devices such as pins, plates, or screws to hold the bone together. You may need to wear a splint or cast for a month or longer to protect the bone and keep it in place during healing. Other treatments may be also used to help reduce symptoms or regain function. These include:
Cold packs. Putting an ice pack on the injured area may help reduce swelling and pain.
Raising the arm and wrist. Keeping the arm and wrist raised above heart level may help reduce swelling.
Pain medicines. Taking prescription or over-the-counter pain medicines may help reduce pain and swelling.
Exercises. Doing certain exercises at home or with a physical therapist can help restore strength, flexibility, and range of motion in your arm, wrist, and hand. In general, exercises are not started until after the splint or cast is removed.
Possible complications of a distal radius fracture
These can include:
Poor healing of the bone
Weakness, stiffness, or loss of range of motion in the arm, wrist, or hand
Osteoarthritis in the wrist joint
When to call your healthcare provider
Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of these:
Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed
Symptoms that don’t get better with treatment, or get worse
Numbness, coldness, or swelling in your arm, hand, or fingers
Fingernails that turn blue or gray in color
A splint or cast that is damaged or feels too tight or loose
June 19, 2017
Cohen M, et al. Fractures of the Distal Radius. In: Browner BD, et al, editors. Skeletal Trauma: Basic Science, Management, and Reconstruction. 5 ed. Philadelphia: Saunders; 2015. p. 1263-311., Mudgal CS, et al. Distal Radius Fractures. In: Weinzweig J, editor. Plastic Surgery Secrets Plus. 2 ed. Philadelphia: Mosby; 2010. p. 994-100., Peltron DJ. Distal radius fractures in adults. Up To Date. June 10 ed: Up To Date; 2015. p. 19., Starnes T, et al. Distal Radius Fracture. In: Miller MD, et al, editors. Essential Orthopaedics. Philadelphia: Saunders; 2010. p. 391-7.
Bellendir, Trina, MSPT, CLT,Image reviewed by StayWell medical illustration team.,Joseph, Thomas N, MD