A distal radius fracture, or broken wrist, is one of the most common fractures. The radius is the bone that runs along the thumb side of the forearm. A distal radius fracture is usually caused when a person falls with her hand outstretched. It is predominant among certain sports where the feet are strapped into the equipment making it necessary for outstretched hands to absorb the weight of the body during the course of a fall, such as with snowboarding and bicycling. In most cases, the fracture is about one inch (2.54 cm) above the wrist joint.
Symptoms of a distal radius fracture include pain when the wrist is flexed, tenderness, swelling, deformity of the wrist, and bruising. Once those symptoms are experienced, the person must go visit her doctor for a physical exam or head to the emergency room at a hospital. Usually x-rays will be performed, since a fracture is hard to find without technical aid.
A distal radius fracture can be one of several different kinds. The fracture line may extend into the wrist joint, called an intra-articular fracture. Intra-articular fractures are most common in children between the ages of five and 14. However, if it does not cross into the wrist joint, it is called an extra-articular fracture. Extra-articular fractures are found most often in women who are postmenopausal. Amongst the worst cases, the fracture may be comminuted, or broken into small pieces.
Age, the kind of fracture, and the level of activity determine the kind of treatment that is best for a given individual. If the bone alignment is acceptable, then a splint or a cast will probably be placed on the patient’s arm. However, if the bones need to be realigned, then surgery may be required. Through surgery, a metal plate, screws, and pins will be placed on the bones to realign them.
After a distal radial fracture, the pain may be unbearable. Most patients require narcotics to control the pain for the first few days – usually no longer than five days. Other patients are able to use non-narcotic prescription drugs to relieve the pain associated with the fracture. Some patients with a high tolerance for pain may only need over-the-counter medication, such at Tylenol®. Ideally, after the injury is healed, there will not be any more pain – as long as arthritis does not develop.
Wrist exercises will usually be recommended to help with the healing process and to strengthen the wrist after a distal radius fracture. In addition, women will often be checked for osteoporosis or weakening of the bones. In some cases, a calcium supplement may be prescribed to prevent additional breaks, particularly if there was not a hard fall associated with the fracture.