Fracture of the radius: treatment and recovery time

You can get a fracture of the radius at any age – this is one of the “popular” childhood injuries, which also affects adults. Evgeniy Vladimirovich Chekan, orthopedic traumatologist, leading specialist at the Semeynaya clinic, explains what types of radial bone fractures there are, how they are treated, and how long it takes for patients to fully recover.

This injury is quite common; you can get a fracture of the radius from a fall, an impact or its reflection, a car accident and in many other situations. In some cases, healing proceeds quickly and without problems, in others, unfortunately, it is accompanied by complications.           

What is a radius fracture 

Fracture of the radius: treatment and recovery time

This is the most common fracture of the upper extremity. Most often, such an injury occurs when falling on an outstretched arm, but the radius bone can be broken in other circumstances. According to some data, fractures of the radius account for up to 20% of all fractures. 

Classification of radius fractures 

Fractures of the radius can be different, and their classification depends on the location of the lesion and how many places and how exactly the bone is damaged. 

1. Isolated and combined injuries 

In an isolated fracture, only the radius is injured; in a combined fracture, other bones or parts of the body are affected in addition to the radius. 

2. Open or closed fracture 

The fracture can be closed, in which case the skin is not damaged, or open, in which case a wound will be visible on the skin. 

3. Fracture with or without displacement 

This characteristic of a fracture depends on the location of the bone fragments formed during the injury. 

4. Intra-articular and extra-articular fracture 

In intra-articular fractures, the fracture line is located inside the articular cavity; in extra-articular fractures, the articular surface is not affected. 

5. Other types of fractures 

In addition, fractures can be compression, impression, spiral and others.

Types of radius fractures

Depending on the situations in which the injury occurred, several types of fractures are distinguished .

1. Fracture in a typical location

This is the name for a fracture localized in the lower third of the radius, that is, in the area of ​​the epimetaphysis. For this fracture, which occurs more often than others, a special term “fracture in a typical location” was coined.

Smith’s fracture

Another name for this injury is a flexion fracture. It appears when there is an impact, a fall, or strong pressure on the back of the hand. It received its name after the surgeon Robert William Smith in 1847 [1].

Colles’ fracture

This fracture, also sometimes called a Colles fracture, occurs when a person falls and lands on the palm of their hand—it happens instinctively. The eponym, that is, the name of the fracture, is associated with the Irish surgeon Abraham Colles, who described the injury in 1814.

2. Fracture of the head and neck

The damage in such injuries is localized near the elbow joint—the proximal segment of the bone is damaged.

3. Isolated diaphysis fractures

In this case, the body of the radius breaks. This injury often occurs not from a fall, but from reflecting a blow.

4. Damage to Galeazzi

This is a combined injury in which a fracture of the radius is combined with a dislocation of the head of the ulna. The fracture is named after the Italian surgeon Riccardo Galeazzi, who described the injury in 1934 [2].

Symptoms of a radius fracture

Any fall, blow or other impact can lead to injury – it is important not to exclude the possibility of a fracture, and if one or more symptoms appear, consult a doctor to clarify the diagnosis.

  • Decreased range of motion in the joint adjacent to the fracture.
  • Swelling and deformity in the area of ​​injury.
  • Pain that worsens with movement.
  • Numbness of fingers.

Diagnosis of a radius fracture

“If a fracture of the radius is suspected, it is important to carry out a differential diagnosis with injuries to adjacent bones, such as the scaphoid, ulna, as well as dislocations of the wrist or elbow joints. The general symptoms of a fracture may also resemble the symptoms of arthritis or arthrosis ,” explains expert Evgeniy Chekan.

1. Doctor’s examination

Examination by a specialist is the first and mandatory stage of diagnosis. A well-collected medical history will help you choose the right diagnostic and treatment tactics.

2. Radiography

The gold standard for diagnosing a fracture is radiography, which must be performed if this injury is suspected.

3. Computer and magnetic resonance imaging

As an additional diagnostic method, you can use computed tomography – it is prescribed when radiography does not give a clear answer. Magnetic resonance imaging is also possible; it is needed to assess the condition of the ligamentous apparatus or identify a hidden fracture.

Treatment of a radius fracture

There are two main types of treatment for a radius fracture: conservative and surgical. The choice depends on many factors. The patient’s age, level of physical activity, state of health, lifestyle, and the nature of the fracture are important.

1. Plaster application

Conservative treatment is used mainly for incomplete fractures, without or with minimal displacement, or in cases where it is possible to eliminate the displacement and fix the fragments in the correct position. The average healing time for the radius varies from 3 to 8 weeks.

2. Operation

Surgical treatment is used if the position of the bone and bone fragments cannot be corrected using a closed method. In such cases, surgical treatment will correct and hold the bone in place while it heals.

3. Vitamin intake

Taking vitamin D and calcium is important for patients who have suffered injuries and are recovering from a fracture. However, the use of vitamins for fractures is not the main type of treatment [3].

Bone healing time

On average, bones heal completely after a fracture in 6–8 weeks, but rehabilitation measures can begin much earlier – within a couple of weeks after the injury.

Rehabilitation of the radius after a fracture

The rehabilitation period depends on the type of fracture and the chosen treatment tactics. It begins in the first days after injury and can last up to 1 year. However, most people return to their normal lives after 1.5–2 months.

1. Physiotherapy

The first procedures: UHF, electrophoresis, thermal therapy – the doctor can prescribe it 2-3 days after the injury.

2. Massage

A specialist should perform the massage necessary to stimulate blood circulation. Incorrect massage can worsen the situation and slow down recovery.

3. Restorative exercise set

If the treatment is carried out in a cast, where half of the palm remains mobile, then on the second or third day, under the guidance of a doctor, you can begin exercises aimed at flexing and extending the fingers. They can speed up the healing of a fracture. After removing the cast, patients begin to develop movements in the wrist joint.

If surgical treatment has been performed, then rehabilitation is more intensive and often already on the 7-12th day after surgery, the patient restores mobility in the wrist joint.

4. Manual therapy

Working with a qualified chiropractor can help restore mobility and reduce pain.

Consequences and complications after a fracture of the radius

The healing process does not always go smoothly. Depending on the nature of the injury and the patient’s health, complications are possible, including serious ones:

  • compression of soft tissues, nerves, blood vessels by plaster immobilization;
  • suppuration of the surgical treatment area;
  • contracture (limitation of movement/loss of function) in the damaged joint;
  • tunnel syndrome – pinching of the median nerve, leading to pain and numbness;
  • prolonged pain and parasthesia – loss of sensitivity;
  • growth deformities that are characteristic of children

Doctor’s recommendations

“Symptoms of a fracture of the radius can be confused with signs of another injury, for example, a dislocation,” says expert Evgeniy Chekan. – In addition, inflammatory joint disease, which is in no way related to injury, can manifest itself in a similar way. The occurrence of pain, limited mobility and other discomfort, especially in situations where they were preceded by a blow or fall, should not be ignored – you need to be examined to figure out what is causing the unpleasant symptoms.

Questions and answers 

Orthopedic traumatologist Evgeniy Vladimirovich Chekan spoke about the features of radial bone fractures and answered the most common questions. 

How long do you wear a cast for a fracture of the radius? 

On average, patients wear a cast for 6-8 weeks. 

What is the ICD code for a fracture of the radius? 

A fracture of the forearm bones is designated in ICD-10 by the general code S52. 

How long does swelling last after a fracture of the radius? 

Depending on the chosen treatment tactics, type of fracture, age, and compliance with recommendations, swelling can persist for up to several months. 

Can you move your fingers if you have a fractured radius? 

It is allowed to move your fingers during a fracture, even if the injury site is in a cast. 

How long does your arm hurt after a radius fracture? 

Pain may persist for several weeks or even months after healing. Approximately 20% of patients experience pain 3 months after injury.

What should be done to make a fracture of the radius heal faster? 

It is important not to ignore the prescribed treatment, follow the recommendations of the attending physician, and engage in physical therapy and rehabilitation that is permitted for the patient

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