Among the most common type of fracture, the distal radius fracture affects the distal end (end towards the wrist) of the radius bone in the forearm – generally when the arm is used to break a fall.

A distal radius fracture is also called Colles Fracture – named after the surgeon who initially described it, Abraham Colles.

The radius is a forearm bone that runs between the wrist and the elbow. It becomes rigid when it is extended to break a sudden fall and subjected to extreme compression and twisting force that generally results in a fracture at the wrist. This type of injury can also result from a direct trauma.

A fracture may be either displaced (out of proper alignment) or nondisplaced.

When it occurs, the pain is immediate and there is an obvious deformity of the wrist. This may be followed by pain, stiffness, swelling and loss of motion in the affected area. Bruising may also be present.

Those at Risk
While distal radius fractures can happen to anyone involved in a trauma such as a car accident, as well as the weekend roller bladder or skater boarder, it most frequently occurs in athletes involved in action sports such as motocross racing and cycling.

Distal radius fractures are also common in patients over the age of 60, as a result of osteoporosis. A relatively minor fall in these patients can result in a fracture because of the decreased bone density.

Patient history, nature of the incident that resulted in the fracture, and a physical examination will assist in the diagnosis. The outward appearance, while varied depending on severity, is also a strong indicator of this type of fracture. An X-ray will confirm the diagnosis.

The primary goal of treatment is to ensure that the bones heal in the correct alignment. For fractures that are not displaced a simple brace and anti-inflammatory medication may be all that is necessary. For fractures that are displaced, or not properly aligned, surgery may be indicated in order to ensure that the dislocated bones are replaced in their normal anatomic positions. This is called reduction. Reduction may be done either closed (without making an incision) or open (with an incision). The type of fixation used to hold the bone in the correct position is determined based on the condition of the patient, lifestyle, and severity of the injury.