Wrist fractures involve the radius, and sometimes also the ulna. Certain types of wrist fractures are called Colles' fractures.These occur commonly after a fall on an outstretched arm, particularly in older people. People have pain, swelling, and tenderness, and often the wrist appears in an unnatural position.
For many fractures, closed reduction followed by casting is adequate. The cast may be worn for 3 to 6 weeks. Other wrist fractures require surgery, particularly if the joint surface is out of place, especially in active adults who need to be able to fully use their wrist. During surgery, an internal plate may be applied, or an external fixator (a frame of rods clamped to stainless steel pins that pass through the skin into the bone) is used.
Daily motion of the fingers, elbow (if free), and shoulder helps to avoid stiffness. Elevation of the hand is important to control swelling. Comfort, flexibility, and strength of the wrist continue to improve for 6 to 12 months after the fracture.
Last full review/revision December 2008 by James R. Roberts, MD