A Comparative Study of Clinical and Radiologic Outcomes of Unstable Colles Type Distal Radius Fractures in Patients Older Than 70 Years: Nonoperative Treatment Versus Volar Locking Plating

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Objectives:To compare final functional and radiographic outcomes of closed reduction and casting (CAST) with open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) with palmar locking plate for unstable Colles type distal radius fractures (DRFs) in low-demand patients older than 70 years.Design:Retrospective, clinical study.Setting:Level 1 university trauma center.Patients:Over a mean period of 4 years and 7 months, 130 consecutive patients older than 70 years were treated for an unstable dorsally displaced DRF of which 114 or 87% were followed for 1 year or longer.Intervention:ORIF (n = 53) using volar locking plate or closed reduction and casting (n = 61).Main Outcome Measurements:Objective and subjective functional results (active range of motion; grip strength; disabilities of the arm, shoulder and hand (DASH) score; patient-rated wrist evaluation (PRWE) score; visual analog scale; and Green and O'Brien score) and radiographic assessment (dorsal tilt, radial inclination, radial shortening, fracture union, and posttraumatic arthritis) were assessed.Results:At final follow-up, there was no significant difference between the 2 groups for mean ranges of motion, grip strength, DASH score, PRWE score, and Green and O'Brien score. Pain level was significantly less for the patients in the CAST group. An obvious clinical deformity was present in 77% of cast group and none in the ORIF group. At final follow-up, in the ORIF group, there was a mean loss of dorsal tilt of 1.3 degrees, radial inclination of 0.3 degrees, and radial length of 0.5 mm compared with the postoperative measurements. No primary acceptable reduction was achieved in 44% of the CAST group. At final follow-up, in the CAST group, dorsal tilt, radial inclination, and radial shortening averaged −24.4 ± 12 degrees, 19.2 ± 6.5 degrees, and +3.9 ± 2.7 mm, respectively. Malunion occurred in 89% primarily reduced fractures. Dorsal tilt, radial inclination, and radial shortening were significantly better in the ORIF group.Conclusions:Radiographic results (dorsal tilt, radial inclination, and radial shortening) after unstable dorsally displaced DRFs are significantly better in patients treated by ORIF using a volar fixed-angle plate rather than those treated by cast immobilization (P < 0.05). At a mean follow-up time of 4 years and 7 months, the clinical outcomes of active range of motion, the PRWE, DASH, and Green and O'Brien scores do not differ between the 2 methods of treatment. The pain level was significantly less in the CAST group (P < 0.05), and this group experienced no complications. There was no difference between the subjective and functional outcomes for the surgical and the nonsurgical treatments in a cohort of patients older than 70 years. Unsatisfactory radiographic outcome in older patients does not necessarily translate into unsatisfactory functional outcome. Nonoperative treatment may be the preferred method of treatment in this age group.

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