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Distal Radius Fracture (Colle's Fracture)

The forearm consists of two bones, the radius and ulna. The radius is the larger of the two forearm bones, and the region towards the wrist is called the distal end. Fractures in this end are most common.

The distal radius can be broken in various ways, but generally occurs around 2cm from the distal end of the wrist. The most commonly occurring distal radius fracture is the Colle’s fracture, which leads to an upward tilting of the broken radius bone. Other types of distal radius fractures include:

  • Intra-articular fracture: Fracture extending into the wrist joint
  • Extra-articular fracture: Fracture not extending into the wrist joint
  • Open fracture: Fractured bone, which breaks through the skin
  • Comminuted fracture: Bone fractured into more than two pieces

Causes

Falling onto an outstretched arm is the most common way to fracture the distal radius. Other causes include:

  • Minor falls with the presence of osteoporosis (fragile bones)
  • Major trauma to the wrist during a vehicular accident

Symptoms

The symptoms occurring with distal radius fractures include bruising, swelling, immediate pain and tenderness, and limited mobility. The broken wrist may also appear deformed.

Diagnosis

Distal radius fractures are diagnosed with an X-ray of the wrist to detect broken or displaced bone. Sometimes, a computer tomography (CT) scan may also be required to get a detailed view of the fractured fragments.

Treatment

You can protect your wrist with a splint and apply an ice pack while keeping the wrist elevated until the doctor examines it. The choice of treatment will depend on your age, level of activity and nature of fracture.

Nonsurgical treatment

If the bone is aligned properly even after the fracture, a plaster cast may be enough to allow it to heal on its own. In case the broken bones are misaligned, realignment of the broken fragments is likely to be required. This usually involves a closed reduction, which involves and anaesthetic and moving the broken bone pieces into place and straightening the bone without opening the skin. After alignment of bones, Professor Bain will place a splint or cast on your arm. The cast may be changed after a few weeks as it loosens with the reduction in swelling.

The healing process will be monitored with regular X-rays. The doctor may recommend physiotherapy to help improve the function and motion of your injured wrist.

Surgical treatment

Surgery is recommended for fractures that are displaced and cannot be corrected with a cast. Open reduction technique involves directly accessing and aligning of the broken bones through an incision. After alignment, the bones can be secured together in the correct position with the use of any of the following or a combination of these techniques:

  • Cast
  • Plate and screws
  • Metal pins (titanium or stainless steel)
  • External fixation (outside the skin stabilising frame to hold the bones in its aligned position until it heals)

Open fractures: Surgery is recommended for all open fractures within a few hours after the wrist injury. The bone and exposed soft tissues are thoroughly cleaned, antibiotics are usually administered to prevent infections, and internal fixation methods are used to hold the broken bones in correct position. For badly damaged soft tissues, a temporary external fixator may be placed. The internal fixation screws or plates may be placed after several days in a separate procedure.