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Distal Radius Fracture – “Break”ing Down the Injury!

Distal Radius Fracture

A distal radius fracture is a break in the radial bone. This bone is located in your forearm on your thumb side. When a person has this type of break, the tip of their ulna is usually broken as well.

Understanding the Injury

  • Radial fractures most commonly occur when there is a fall on outstretched hand(s). This can happen whether you fall forward or backwards. Tripping or missing a step can cause a distal radius fracture. We stretch out our hands to catch ourselves when we fall. It is a natural reaction.
  • That makes this kind of break very common. There are about 600,000 wrist fractures every year! Most of these are in adults and mainly in the elderly.

Understanding the Treatment

  • This nasty break can only be treated with complete immobilization of the joint.
  • If the break is very complex surgery may be needed.
  • More often, all that is needed is a strong splint. If the break requires a cast, the patient has to wear a splint until swelling subsides. This ensures a snug fit for the cast. If necessary, a cast might extend all the way up to include the elbow. This further prevents rotation. Rotation can negatively affect the healing process.
  • An internal fixation plate might be used to treat the break instead. This is placed inside the wrist to hold the bones together until they heal.
  • An external fixation is a piece of hardware affixed to the outside of the arm. Pieces of the device insert into the arm and attach to the bones to keep everything in place.
  • This method is used in patients with a distal radius fracture that is too unstable for a cast. But external fixation is more convenient than a cast in that it allows a person to easily shower and even gently use their hand.
  • Speed of recovery is dependent on a person’s age and activity level.

A distal radius fracture is a complex injury but this “break” down will help you understand the basics.

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