Consulting with a hand and upper extremity specialist like Dr. Lehman is the first step toward recovery. Your individualized treatment plan depends on a number of factors, including:
- If the bone is displaced and if so, to what degree
- Whether the joint was involved
- Whether nerves were affected
- If this is your dominant hand
- Your occupation, age, and activity level
Dr. Lehman notes that, “Sometimes based on the fracture pattern, as well as the patient’s desires, these are treated nonoperatively with a period of immobilization with a cast or split. Other times they require surgery in which we open up the fracture, reduce it into its anatomic position, and then fix it with a combination of plates and screws.”
If you and your doctor elects for nonsurgical treatment of the distal radius fracture, it may require the fracture to be realigned before putting it in a cast or splint. This occurs under local anesthesia to numb the painful area. Then the cast or splint is placed and typically left on for up to six weeks to allow the injury to heal. X-rays will be taken at diagnosis and potentially throughout the healing to monitor your progress. You may then wear a removable wrist splint and undergo physical therapy to regain wrist strength and full function.
If your distal radius fracture can’t be treated with just a cast, your orthopaedic surgeon will schedule surgery to repair the injury. These surgeries are usually performed under regional anesthesia. The surgeon will male an incision at the wrist, and reduce the bones to their anatomic position. As Dr. Lehman indicated, a combination of pins, screws, and plates are then used to hold the bones together.
After surgery, a splint is placed on the wrist. You will see the doctor at 1-2 weeks postoperatively for a wound check. You will then begin work with a certified hand therapist to work on range of motion and strengthening of the wrist. Your hand therapist will also provide you with home exercises to help regain all the function you had before the injury.
Dr. Lehman reports, “You will be able to use your hand and fingers for normal activities immediately after surgery, but typically, patients require about three months after surgery before they have full use of the upper extremity.”