Distal Radius Fracture: Essential Recovery Guide

distal radius fractures: symptoms, treatment, recovery

So, you’ve injured your wrist and it might be a distal radius fracture—a common issue when you take a tumble and land on your outstretched hand.

What Is A Distal Radius Fracture?

A distal radius fracture, occurring near the wrist in the largest forearm bone, is a common injury typically caused by falls onto an outstretched hand or direct impacts. This type of fracture can also result from axial forces.

Here’s the lowdown on what you might be feeling and what can be done about it.

Signs and Symptoms

When you’ve got a distal radius fracture, you’ll likely notice:

  1. Immediate pain and swelling around your wrist.
  2. It might feel tender to the touch, and moving your wrist, especially twisting or gripping, can make it hurt even more.
  3. Numbness or tingling due to how the fracture affects nearby nerves.

Types of Fractures

Fractures around the wrist can vary. You might have heard of:

  • Colles’ Fracture: This one tilts the broken part of your radius bone upwards.
  • Smith’s Fracture: Here, the broken fragment tilts downwards.
  • Intra-articular Fracture: These can be more complex, extending into your wrist joint and potentially causing arthritis down the line.
  • Open Fracture: In severe cases, the bone can break through your skin, which can lead to infection risks.

Understanding which type you have helps determine the best way to treat it.

Treatment Options

Treatment of a distal radius fracture depends on several factors, including the specific nature of the fracture, the patient’s age and overall health, and their previous activity level.

Both surgical and nonsurgical approaches are used to treat a distal radius fracture.

Non-Surgical Treatment

If your fracture isn’t too severe and the bones are still in decent alignment, you might just need a cast. The cast keeps everything stable so your bones can heal naturally.

Typically, you wear it for about six weeks before beginning physical therapy, during which time it’s important to keep your wrist elevated and avoid putting too much strain on it.

Surgical Treatment

Sometimes, though, the bones need a bit more help to heal properly. That’s when surgery comes into play. Surgery is usually called for when the bones must be re-positioned to improve their alignment.

Surgeons may use plates, screws, or pins to get everything back in place. It sounds serious, but it’s aimed at making sure your wrist heals strong and stable.

Healing Time

How long until you’re back to normal? Well, that depends.

Non-surgical recoveries typically take around six weeks for the bones to heal enough to ditch the cast. But full healing can take a few months. Surgery might mean a bit longer recovery because your body needs time to bounce back from the procedure.

The good news? Physical therapy starts soon after surgery to speed up your recovery and keep any complications at bay.

Getting Back on Track: Physical Therapy

Whether you go the cast route or opt for surgery, physical therapy is your next big step. It’s all about:

  • Getting Your Wrist Moving Again: Slow and steady exercises help regain flexibility and prevent stiffness not just in your wrist but also in your fingers, elbow, and shoulder.
  • Preventing Stiffness: It aims to prevent stiffness not only in the wrist but also in the fingers, elbow, and shoulder.
  • Easing Back into Daily Life: The goal is to help you comfortably return to your usual activities, whether that’s typing on a keyboard or hitting the tennis court.

Exercises to Get You Going

Early Stage Exercises

Right after your cast comes off or post-surgery, you’ll start with gentle movements to get things moving again:

  • Bend and Stretch: Slowly bend and straighten your wrist to improve range of motion.
  • Circle It Out: Rotate your wrist gently in circles to loosen things up.
  • Grip and Release: Squeeze a soft ball or do simple grip exercises to strengthen your hand and fingers.

Moving Up

As you progress, your therapy will focus on building strength and getting you ready to tackle everyday tasks:

  • Build Wrist Strength: Use resistance bands or light weights to work those wrist muscles.
  • Put It to Use: Practice lifting light objects or doing household chores to simulate real-life movements.
  • Find Your Balance: Exercises to improve coordination and stability are key to getting you back on your feet.

Ready for Anything

In the final stages of your recovery, you’ll be gearing up to dive back into your favorite activities:

  • Sport-Specific Training: Tailored exercises if you’re into sports or activities that require a lot from your wrists.
  • Build Endurance: Gradually ramp up your exercise time and intensity to boost your overall stamina.
  • Manage the Pain: Therapies like heat or ice can help manage any lingering pain or swelling.

Rehabilitation and Expected Outcomes

Most patients regain most of their movement if they follow a physical therapy program and aftercare instructions from their doctor. Permanent pain is unlikely, and you can expect to return to normal recreation and work activities.

However, intra-articular fractures may lead to some stiffness and potential arthritis development. For these cases in particular, physical therapy can provide the most significant improvement in rehabilitation after a distal radius fracture.

Did you know you have Direct Access* to Physical Therapy? No referral, no problem!

Specific Considerations

While active contact sports should be postponed for approximately four months, we can design an individual program that includes functional activities such as bike riding and swimming.

By following a carefully designed physical therapy program, you can expect to recover from a distal radius fracture.

Wrapping It Up

Dealing with a distal radius fracture might feel daunting, but with the right treatment and a bit of patience, you’ll be amazed at how well your wrist can recover.

Whether you’re in a cast or recovering from surgery, sticking to your physical therapy plan is your ticket to regaining strength and mobility. Work closely with your healthcare team, follow their advice, and you’ll be back to your usual self in no time.