One Bad Fall: The Most Common Reason for Distal Radial Fract...

One Bad Fall: The Most Common Reason for Distal Radial Fracture Surgery

Pedro K. Beredjiklian, M.D. March 16th, 2015

If you or someone you love has suffered a distal radius fracture, you know firsthand that the onset of symptoms is immediate. First, of course, there is pain. Accompanying that pain is often tenderness, swelling and eventually, bruising. Depending on the severity and location of the break, the wrist may even become deformed as the bone protrudes in an unnatural direction.

While distal radial fracture surgery is not always necessary in order to fix the injury, this type of wrist surgery is one of the most commonly performed by orthopedic physicians. And that comes as no surprise when you learn that almost 250,000 people fracture the distal portion of their radius bone each year in the U.S. 
Determining Whether You Need Distal Radial Fracture Surgery
Upon injuring the wrist, it is imperative that you immediately protect and immobilize the arm all the way from the elbow to the hand. If the injury is not extremely painful and you are unable to see a doctor that same day, creating a splint and a homemade sling can work as a temporary protection measure until you can get in to see an orthopedic specialist. Elevate your wrist and apply ice to manage swelling.
If you experience any of the following, you need to see a physician right away:
  • Immediate, severe pain
  • Numbness in the hand
  • Loss of color to the hand/fingers
  • Deformity of the wrist or protrusion of the bone through the skin
When you see a wrist specialist at Rothman Institute, you’ll get x-rays done and receive a physical examination, after which the doctors can advise you on whether you need distal radial fracture surgery.
The degree of severity for this injury is varied from case to case and the treatment approach will be determined based on criteria such as:
  • Where the bone is broken
  • In how many pieces the bone has broken
  • The position of the bone after the injury
  • Your age and activity level
Not every patient needs to undergo a distal radial fracture surgery, but regardless of the treatment plan determined by your physician, the goal of the treatment is always to return the bone to its proper position and prevent it from moving out of place until it is sufficiently healed. 
Interesting Facts About This Injury
The most common cause of distal radial fractures in individuals over 60 is a fall from a standing position.
  • Osteoporosis-related distal radial fractures make up approximately 250,000 of the fractures treated in the U.S each year.
  • In younger patients with healthy bones, a fractured wrist can occur if the force of the trauma is severe enough - for example, in a car accident.
  • Women over the age of 50 are especially susceptible to the onset of osteoporosis and therefore are more commonly treated for this type of injury.
  • The radius is the most commonly broken bone in the arm.
  • Outside of vertebral and hip fractures, wrist fractures are the most common injury caused by osteoporosis. 
  • A distal radial fracture almost always occurs about 1 inch from the end of the bone. 
  • One of the most common types of distal radial fractures is referred to as a Colles fracture (occurs when the broken fragment of the radius tilts upward). 
All About Distal Radial Fracture Surgery
If a closed reduction is not possible, then wrist fracture surgery becomes necessary. During this procedure, your surgeon will make an incision to access the broken bones and realign them properly.
If the injury is an open fracture (in other words, the bone has come through the skin), the surgery to repair the injury should be done within eight hours in order to prevent infection. Your surgeon will take special care to thoroughly clean the surrounding tissue, reposition the bones and fix them in place.
In order to promote proper healing and reduce the risk of reinjury in the future, the bone must be held in place during the recovery process through one or more of the following methods:
  • Cast
  • Plate and screws
  • Metal pins
  • Temporary external fixator
For more information about this procedure or to set up an appointment with one of Rothman Institute’s wrist specialists, call us today at 1-800-321-9999.

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