Definition | Causes | Risk Factors | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment | Prevention

Definition

A Colles fracture is a break in the distal part of the radius bone. The radius is one of the bones of the forearm. The distal end of the bone is considered part of the wrist. Distal radius fractures are categorized by type:

  • Open fracture—a broken bone that breaks through the skin
  • Comminuted fracture—a bone that breaks into more than 2 pieces
  • Intra-articular fracture—a broken bone within a joint
  • Extra-articular fracture—a broken bone that does not involve the joint

Intra-articular Colles Fracture

Colle's Fracture
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This sheet focuses on fracture of the distal radius. Fractures of other wrist bones can be found on a separate sheet.

Causes

A distal radius fracture can be caused by:

  • A fall on an outstretched hand
  • A direct blow to the wrist

Risk Factors

Factors that can increase your risk of breaking your radius bone include:

  • Severe trauma:
    • Car accidents
    • Fall from a height
    • Violence
    • Falling off a bike
    • Skiing fall
  • Osteoporosis
  • Poor nutrition
  • Conditions that increase the risk of falling include:
    • Snow
    • Ice
    • Loss of agility or muscle strength
    • Certain sports
  • Increased age
  • Postmenopause
  • Decreased muscle mass

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • Arm or wrist pain
  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Severe pain with movement
  • Trouble moving your wrist or arm
  • Wrist appears out of line

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Images will usually be taken of the wrist or arm. This can be done with an x-ray.

You may be referred to a specialist. An orthopedist focuses on bones.

Treatment

Proper treatment can prevent long-term complications or problems with your wrist. Treatment will depend on how serious the fracture is, but may include:

A cast, splint, or sling may needed to protect, support, and keep your wrist in line while it heals.

Some fractures cause pieces of bone to separate. These pieces will need to be put back into their proper place. This may be done:

  • Without surgery—you will have anesthesia to decrease pain while the doctor moves the pieces back into place
  • With surgery—pins, wires, plates, screws, or stitches in the bone or tendons may be needed to reconnect the pieces and hold them in place

Prescription or over-the-counter medications may be given to help reduce inflammation and pain.

Medications may include acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Check with your doctor before taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen or aspirin.

Healing time varies by age and your overall health. In general, it takes up to 6-10 weeks to heal.

Physical therapy or rehabilitation therapy will be used to improve range of motion and strengthen the wrist.

Prevention

To help reduce your chance of fracturing your radius bone:

  • Consider wearing a wrist guard when you play sports that put you at risk, such as in-line skating.
  • Keep your muscles strong to prevent falls.