Dr. David J. Bozentka answers your questions about wrist fractures, commonly known as a distal radius fracture.
Q: What is a distal radius fracture?
A: The radius is the forearm bone on the thumb side of your wrist. When you break the radius bone about an inch from the wrist it is considered a distal radius fracture. These are the most common fractures of the wrist and occur most often when you fall on an outstretched hand. You will notice pain, swelling, and sometimes a deformity after the injury. The fracture can range in severity from very mild (requiring a splint for treatment) to a more severe injury in which the bone is shifted out of position and might need surgery.
Q: What should I do if I believe that I have broken my wrist?
A: You should support your wrist with a splint, apply ice, and elevate it. You should have an evaluation by a hand surgeon as soon as possible. The hand surgeon will often obtain an x-ray and place you in a well-molded, supportive splint or cast. You may need to have the wrist placed in a better position; this is called “reducing” the fracture. You will be asked to follow-up with your hand surgeon.
Q: What studies are performed in treating a distal radius fracture?
A: X-rays are performed in all patients to evaluate the extent of the injury. A CT scan might be needed to better evaluate the number of fragments and displacement. X-rays might be repeated every week or few weeks if you are treated without surgery to determine if the fracture has shifted out of alignment. A final set of x-rays are also taken to confirm that the fracture has healed, which occurs at six weeks or longer after the injury. If you are over 50 years of age, whether you are a male or female, ask your doctor about an evaluation for osteoporosis. A DEXA scan is often performed in the workup in the evaluation.