Distal Radial Fractures in the Elderly: Operative Compared with Nonoperative Treatment

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There is much debate regarding the optimal treatment of displaced, unstable distal radial fractures in the elderly. The purpose of this retrospective review was to compare outcomes for elderly patients with a displaced distal radial fracture who were treated with or without surgical intervention.


This case-control study examined ninety patients over the age of sixty-five who were treated with or without surgery for a displaced distal radial fracture. All fractures were initially treated with closed reduction and splinting. Patients who failed an acceptable closed reduction were offered surgical intervention. Patients who did not undergo surgery were treated until healing with cast immobilization. Patients who underwent surgery were treated with either plate-and-screw fixation or external fixation. Baseline radiographs and functional scores were obtained prior to treatment. Follow-up was conducted at two, six, twelve, twenty-four, and fifty-two weeks. Clinical and radiographic follow-up was completed at each visit, while functional scores were obtained at the twelve, twenty-four, and fifty-two-week follow-up evaluations. Outcomes at fixed time points were compared between groups with standard statistical methods.


Forty-six patients with a mean age of seventy-six years were treated nonoperatively, and forty-four patients with a mean age of seventy-three years were treated operatively. Other than age, there was no difference with respect to baseline demographics between the cohorts. At twenty-four weeks, patients who underwent surgery had better wrist extension (p = 0.04) than those who had not had surgery. At one year, this difference was not seen. No difference in functional status based on the Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand scores and pain scores at any of the follow-up points was seen between the groups. Grip strength at one year was significantly better in the operative group. Radiographic outcome was superior for the patients in the operative group at each follow-up interval. There was no difference between the groups with regard to complications.


Our findings suggest that minor limitations in the range of wrist motion and diminished grip strength, as seen with nonoperative care, do not seem to limit functional recovery at one year.

Level of Evidence:

Therapeutic Level III. See Instructions to Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

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