Surgical Information

Treatment for Distal Radius Fracture (Broken Wrist)

What are the treatment options for distal radius fracture?

A distal radius fracture, or broken wrist, is a common bone fracture of the forearm. Treatments vary and depend on the severity of the fracture, your age and activity level, and your overall health.

  • Non-surgical treatment involves immobilization in a splint or cast, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or prescription pain medication. This is often followed by rehabilitation exercises or physical therapy to reduce stiffness and restore movement.
  • Surgery is required if the bone is so out of place it cannot be corrected in a cast. It typically involves making an incision to directly access the broken bones to improve alignment. Internal fixation devices, such as plates, rods or screws, are used to maintain proper position of your bones during healing. Sometimes an external stabilizing frame is used to hold the bones in place.

It is important that you are carefully screened by an orthopaedic surgeon to determine the nature of your fracture and the most appropriate treatment.

Anatomy

The wrist is a complex collection of multiple bones and joints that bridges the hand to the forearm. The radius is the larger of the two bones of the forearm. The end toward the wrist is called the distal end. A fracture of the distal radius occurs when this area of the radius breaks.

When is surgery recommended?

It's important to treat a distal radius fracture as soon as possible. Otherwise, the bones may not heal in proper alignment, which can affect your ability to perform everyday activities. Early treatment will also help minimize pain and stiffness.

Immobilization heals most broken bones. However, if your fracture is extremely severe or unstable, or has damaged the surrounding ligaments, you may require surgery. During the procedure, your orthopaedic surgeon will implant an internal fixation device or attach an external device to hold the bones in place and ensure they heal properly.

What is the recovery time?

Most patients return to all of their activities following a distal radius fracture. Recovery time varies and depends on the severity of the injury and the method of treatment.

After your cast or splint is removed, you'll need physical therapy to reduce stiffness and restore movement in your wrist and hand. Rehabilitation can be a long process. It may take a few months, or longer, for severe injuries to heal completely. The same is true following surgery.

In both cases, patients are usually able to resume light activities within one to two months, and more vigorous sports and activities within three to six months.