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Understanding Colles Fracture: What You Need To Know About Wrist Injuries

Foothills Region / 23 Jun 2024

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by EmergeOrtho
Understanding Colles Fracture: What You Need To Know About Wrist Injuries

A Colles fracture is a specific type of broken wrist injury that is usually caused by physical trauma, like a fall. These fractures vary in severity and may or may not require surgery to heal correctly. An orthopedic surgeon diagnoses and treats these types of wrist injuries.

What Is a Colles Fracture?

The lower arm consists of two bones: the radius and the ulna. The radius is the bone that meets the wrist closer to the thumb, while the ulna is closer to the outside of the hand. A Colles fracture is a type of distal radius fracture, a fracture at the end of the radius closest to the wrist.

A distal radius fracture typically occurs about an inch from the wrist end of the bone and is a common type of break. Common causes include falls and car crashes. In older adults, osteoporosis often contributes to distal radius fractures.

Colles vs. Smith Fracture

Both Colles and Smith fractures are types of distal radius fractures. They both occur at the wrist end of the radius but differ in the direction of the broken bone.

In a Colles fracture, the broken radius bends or points toward the palm. In a Smith’s fracture, it points in the opposite direction, toward the back of the hand.

The Colles type of break occurs when the hand is in dorsiflexion, bending up toward the top of the arm. A Smith fracture occurs with the hand in the opposite position, flexed toward the inside of the arm (palmar, or volar flexion).

What Are the Symptoms of a Colles Fracture?

A fractured radius of any type usually results from physical trauma and is immediately apparent. You will likely experience significant pain as well as swelling and bruising. Your wrist might hang or bend unusually, and you will be unable to move or use it normally.

In rare cases, a Colles fracture is severe enough to damage nerves and cause numbness in the hand. If you experience hand or finger numbness after a wrist injury, seek emergency care.

How Do Doctors Diagnose a Colles Wrist Fracture?

A Colles fracture can usually be diagnosed with an X-ray that shows the break’s location and severity. An X-ray can also determine if there are multiple fractures. In some cases, a doctor may use a MRI scan to look for or rule out damage to soft tissue and to plan surgical treatment.

How Is a Colles Fracture Treated?

Treatment for a wrist fracture depends on several factors, including the severity of the fracture and the patient’s age and activity level. For simple fractures with the bones in a good position to heal, a cast is often adequate. The cast immobilizes the bones, allowing them to heal over time.

EmergeOrtho Hand & Wrist Surgeon, Dr. William Bell examines a patient’s wrist to diagnose a colles fracture

If the bones are out of alignment, the orthopedist may need to perform a closed reduction before applying the cast. This means they realign the broken bones without incisions or surgery.

More complex fractures may require surgery for proper healing. Surgical realigning of the bones is called open reduction. The surgeon may use pins, screws, plates, or a combination of these to hold the bones in the correct position as they heal in place.

Recovering From a Colles Fracture

Recovery depends on the severity of the fracture and the treatment type. Many fractures take a few months to heal. It can be up to a year before you are considered fully recovered and can resume all normal activities.

Most patients can resume light activities within a month or two of surgery or when having a cast removed. Every situation is different, so follow your surgeon’s plan for recovery and prohibited activities.

You may need pain management strategies initially, but pain should not last more than a couple of weeks. You will also need to practice good cast care if wearing a cast. Some patients need physical therapy to restore flexibility and mobility to the wrist.

If you are dealing with a suspected Colles fracture or other wrist fracture, our EmergeOrtho-Foothills Region hand and wrist specialists can help. Call (828) 672-1299 or request an appointment today.

A New Level Of Orthopedic Care Has Emerged

EmergeOrtho-Foothills Region patients benefit from a full range of orthopedic services, including diagnostics, imaging, treatment, physical and occupational therapy, and pain management. From conservative care to surgical interventions, our team of specialists provides expert care and real results. Call (828) 672-1299 or click below to schedule your appointment today.