The radius is the larger of the two bones between your elbow and wrist. A Colles fracture is a break in the radius close to the wrist. It was named for the surgeon who first described it. Typically, the break is located about an inch (2.5 centimeters) below where the bone joins the wrist.
A Colles fracture is a common fracture that happens more often in women than men. In fact, it is the most common broken bone for women up to the age of 75.
Distal radius fracture; Broken wrist
A Colles wrist fracture is caused by a forceful injury to the wrist. This may occur due to:
Having osteoporosis is a major risk factor for wrist fractures. Osteoporosis makes bones brittle, so they need less force to break. Sometimes a broken wrist is the first sign of thinning bones.
You will likely get a splint to keep your wrist from moving.
If you have a small fracture and the bone pieces do not move out of place, you will likely wear a splint for 3 to 5 weeks. Some breaks may require you to wear a cast for about 6 to 8 weeks. You may need a second cast if the first one gets too loose as the swelling goes down.
If your break is severe, you may need to see a bone doctor (orthopedic surgeon). Treatments may include:
To help with pain and swelling:
For pain, you can take over-the-counter ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), or acetaminophen (Tylenol). You can buy these pain medicines without a prescription.
For severe pain, you may need a prescription pain reliever.
Follow your provider's instructions about elevating your wrist and using a sling.
Exercising your fingers, elbow, and shoulder is important. It can help keep them from losing their function. Talk with your provider about how much exercise to do and when you can do it. Typically, the provider or surgeon will want you to start moving your fingers as soon as possible after the splint or cast is put on.
The initial recovery from a wrist fracture can take 3 to 4 months or more. You may need physical therapy.
You should start working with a physical therapist as soon as your provider recommends. The work may seem hard and at times painful. But doing the exercises you are given will speed your recovery.
It can take anywhere from a few months to a year for your wrist to fully recover its function. Some people have stiffness and pain in their wrist for the rest of their life.
After your arm is placed in a cast or splint, see your provider if:
Blakeney WG. Stabilization and treatment of Colles' fractures in elderly patients. Clin Interv Aging. 2010;5:337-344. PMID: 21228899 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21228899.
Perez EA. Fractures of the shoulder, arm, and forearm. In: Azar FM, Beaty JH, Canale ST, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 57.
Rodner CM, Fleit A, Grady J. Wrist and forearm. In: Browner BD, Fulller RP, eds. Musculoskeletal Emergencies. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 11.