A Colles' fracture -- or distal radius fracture -- is often called a ''broken wrist.'' Technically, it's a break in the larger of the two bones in your forearm. The bone breaks on the lower end, close to where it connects to the bones of the hand on the thumb side of the wrist.
Colles' fractures are very common; they're the most frequently broken bone in the arm. In the United States, one out of every 10 broken bones is a broken wrist.
So how does someone get a broken wrist? Usually, these injuries result from falling onto an outstretched arm or getting hit on the wrist.
Broken wrists are common in people who play contact sports, as well as skiers, inline skaters, and bikers. People with osteoporosis or thinning of the bones are at particularly high-risk for wrist fractures. But they can happen to anyone who takes a fall or gets hit.
In more serious cases, the following may occur:
These types of broken wrists may be harder to treat.
Symptoms of a broken wrist can include:
To diagnose a broken wrist, your doctor will give you a thorough physical exam. You may need several sets of X-rays, since the fracture may be hard to see at first.
Occasionally, a broken wrist can affect the nerves or blood flow. You should go to the emergency room if:
If the broken wrist is not in the correct position to heal, your doctor may need to reset it. This can be pretty painful so it's usually done with anesthesia. However, painkillers will help afterward.
You will probably also need:
You will probably also want to:
Most the time, these treatments will be enough. But sometimes, people with a broken wrist need surgery. Your doctor might suggest this if the bone is not likely to heal well in a cast. Sometimes, pins, plates, screws, or other devices are needed to hold the bone in place so it can mend.
Of course, what you really want to know is when you can get back in the game after breaking your wrist. There's no easy answer.
Here are some things to keep in mind during recovery from a broken wrist:
A broken wrist is tough to prevent, since it usually happens during an accidental fall. But it can help to use wrist guards during risky sports, like inline skating. Sometimes, a broken wrist can indicate osteoporosis, especially in women. Talk to your doctor about your risk factors for osteoporosis and fractures. There are steps you can take to improve your bone health.
American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons web site: ''Distal Radius Fracture (Colles' Fracture).''
Davis, M.F., et al. Expert Guide to Sports Medicine, American College of Physicians Press, 2005.
Rouzier, P. The Sports Medicine Patient Advisor, second edition, SportsMed Press, 2004.