The Impact of Patient Activity Level on Wrist Disability After Distal Radius Malunion in Older Adults

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Abstract

Objective:

To determine if high-activity older adults are adversely affected by distal radius malunion.

Design:

Cross-sectional study.

Setting:

Hand clinics at a tertiary institution.

Participants:

Ninety-six patients 60 years or older at the time of fracture were evaluated at least 1 year after distal radius fracture.

Intervention:

Physical Activity Scale of the Elderly scores stratified participants into high- and low-activity groups. Malunions were defined radiographically by change of ≥20 degrees of lateral tilt, ≥15 degrees radial inclination, ≥4 mm of ulnar variance, or ≥4 mm intra-articular gap or step-off, compared with the uninjured wrist.

Main Outcome Measure:

Patient-rated disability of the upper extremity was measured by the QuickDASH and visual analog scales (VAS) for pain/function. Strength and motion measurements objectively quantified wrist function.

Results:

High-activity participants with a distal radius malunion were compared with high-activity participants with well-aligned fractures. There was no significant difference in QuickDASH scores, VAS function, strength, and wrist motion despite statistically, but not clinically, relevant increases in VAS pain scores (difference 0.5, P = 0.04) between the groups. Neither physical Activity Scale of the Elderly score (β = 0.001, 95% confidence interval: −0.002 to 0.004) nor malunion (β = 0.133, 95% confidence interval: −0.26 to 0.52) predicted QuickDASH scores in regression modeling after accounting for age, sex, and treatment. Operative management failed to improve outcomes and resulted in decreased grip strength (P = 0.05) and more frequent complications (26% vs. 7%, P = 0.01) when compared with nonoperative management.

Conclusions:

Even among highly active older adults, distal radius malunion does not affect functional outcomes. Judicious use of operative management is warranted provided heightened complication rates.

Level of Evidence:

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

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