Your radius is one of the two bones in your forearm, along with the ulna. It’s the bone that attaches closest to your thumb. A radius fracture, sometimes called a radial fracture, is a break of this bone.

A distal radius fracture is a break in the part of the bone closest to your wrist. Your doctor may refer to it as a wrist fracture or broken wrist.

Distal radius fractures are the most common arm fracture. They make up about 16% of all fractures orthopedic surgeons treat. They’re most common in children and adults over age 50.

Read on to learn more about this injury, including the most common causes and how doctors diagnose and treat it.

Anatomy of the arm and wrist, showing the radius and ulna and where distal radius fractures occurShare on Pinterest
Illustration by Alyssa Kiefer

Experts estimate that distal radius or ulnar fractures make up roughly 25% of upper body fractures. The most common cause is falling on an outstretched hand. Less commonly, they occur during car accidents. The bone almost always breaks about 1 inch from the end.

Distal radius fractures most often occur in children under age 18 and adults over age 50. In older adults with osteoporosis, a relatively small fall might be enough to cause a break. Younger people often break their wrist when falling during sporting activities, like:

  • biking
  • skiing
  • soccer
  • football

Distal radius fractures are the second most common fractures in people over 65, besides hip fractures.

A 2019 study analyzing more than 1 million distal radius Medicare treatment claims found the following sex breakdowns by age:

AgeMale percentFemale percent
65 and over14.6%85.4%

Medical literature has described more than 15 different classification systems for distal radius fractures over the last 70 years. In a 2016 study, researchers concluded that none of these classification systems are particularly useful for surgeons in guiding treatment.

Some particular patterns of fracture occur frequently. Some of the more common types include:

  • Colles’ fracture: Colles’ fracture is the most common type of distal radius fracture. It occurs around 1.5 inches from your wrist joint.
  • Chauffeur’s fracture: Chauffeur’s fracture occurs in the radial styloid, the outer part of the radius closest to your thumb.
  • Die-punch fracture: Die-punch fracture involves the lunate fossa, an indent at the end of the radius where it connects to a bone in your wrist called the lunate.
  • Galeazzi fracture-dislocation: Galeazzi fracture-dislocation is a break near the end of the radius with a distal radioulnar joint dislocation. This usually occurs when the end of the ulna moves behind the radius.
  • Barton’s fracture: Barton’s fracture is a rim fracture, or a fracture that affects the outer edges of the radius. It often occurs with the dislocation of one of the wrist bones.
  • Greenstick and torus fractures: These fractures are partial fractures that occur in children. The radius bends but doesn’t break.
  • Salter-Harris type fracture: A Salter-Harris type fracture is a break of the growth plate in children. The growth plate is the area near the end of the bone where the bone grows from.

Typical symptoms of a distal radius fracture are:

  • sudden pain
  • swelling
  • decreased wrist mobility

In some cases, there may be noticeable deformity of the wrist. In severe cases, there might be neurological symptoms, such as weakness or numbness.

If you suspect you, or somebody you’re taking care of, has a distal radius fracture, you can start the diagnostic process by visiting the emergency room.

Doctors can usually diagnose a distal radius fracture with a standard X-ray. They may order a CT scan in complex cases, such as when there are multiple fractures or multiple joints involved.

An orthopedic specialist may later order an MRI if they suspect you have ligament damage.

Approximately 31% of distal radius fractures also have injuries to the soft tissues, such as ligaments.

Medical professionals can manage most distal radius fractures conservatively with a combination of pain medications and immobilization. Severe fractures may require reduction or surgery.


Doctors will immobilize your wrist by applying a splint or cast. This helps decrease pain and allows your wrist to heal without re-injury.

Pain medications

For minor fractures, a doctor may recommend over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol). A doctor may prescribe stronger pain medications, like codeine, for severe injuries.


If you have a displaced fracture, meaning your bones aren’t in the right position, your doctor may perform reduction before immobilization. Reduction is when a doctor moves the bones back into the proper positions without making a surgical incision.


Severe fractures, such as open fractures where the bone breaks through your skin, may need surgical treatment. Your surgeon may use various implants, such as rods, plates, and screws, to set the bone and allow it to heal.

Your recovery time can depend on factors such as:

  • your age
  • your overall health
  • the extent of your injury
  • how well you follow your doctor’s recovery instructions

A simple radius fracture may need up to 3 weeks of immobilization. Casting may last up to 6 weeks for more severe fractures.

Your doctor can give specific instructions on how to take care of your broken radius. You may be able to help support your body’s natural healing process by doing the following:

  • Ice your wrist for 10 to 20 minutes at a time.
  • Follow your doctor’s immobilization instructions.
  • Avoid removing your splint unless your doctor instructs you.
  • Keep your wrist elevated as much as you can to reduce swelling.
  • Frequently move your fingers to prevent stiffness.

Home exercises

Regaining your strength and mobility after your injury is important, but it’s not a good idea to start exercising until your doctor gives you the OK. They may also recommend working with a physiotherapist to create a custom program.

Exercises that may help you regain function include:

  • range of motion exercises, like wrist circles
  • finger stretches
  • forearm exercises, like wrist curls
  • hand-strengthening exercises, like squeezing a hand exerciser tool

Read more about exercises to strengthen your wrists.

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You can prevent a distal radius fracture by taking steps to prevent falls, maintaining your bone health, and taking necessary safety precautions while in vehicles. You can achieve these by doing the following:

  • Wear proper protective gear for activities with a high risk of falling, like rollerblading.
  • Wear the proper footwear, like winter boots, when it’s icy.
  • Avoid slippery surfaces, like ice-covered walkways.
  • Install grab bars in your bathroom and handrails in your stairways.
  • Eat a balanced, nutritious diet to keep your bone density high, especially focusing on calcium and vitamin D.
  • Stay physically active throughout your life.
  • Wear a seat belt when in a motor vehicle.

A distal radius fracture is the most common type of broken bone in the arm. Falling and catching yourself on an outstretched hand usually causes this type of fracture. You can typically treat minor breaks with rest, pain medication, and a splint or cast.

It’s important to contact a doctor as soon as possible anytime you suspect you may have a broken bone. Your doctor can help differentiate a fracture from other injuries and ensure it receives proper treatment.