Distal Radius Fractures Do Not Displace following Splint or Cast Removal in the Acute, Postreduction Period: A Prospective, Observational Study

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Abstract

Background

Displacement of distal radius fractures has been previously described in the literature; however, little is known about fracture displacement following splint or cast removal at the initial clinic visit following reduction and immobilization.

Purpose

The purpose of this study was to evaluate risk factors for fracture displacement following splint or cast removal and physical examination in the acute postinjury period.

Methods

All patients with a closed distal radius fracture who presented to our orthopedic hand clinic within 3 weeks of injury were prospectively enrolled in our study. Standard wrist radiographs were obtained prior to splint or cast removal. A second wrist series was obtained following physical exam and application of immobilization at the end of the clinic visit. Radiographic parameters for displacement were measured by two independent reviewers and included dorsal angulation, radial inclination, articular step-off, radial height, and ulnar variance. Displacement was assessed using predefined, radiographic criteria for displacement.

Results

A total of 64 consecutive patients were enrolled over a period of 12 weeks. Of these, 37.5% were classified as operative according to American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons guidelines and 37.5% met LaFontaine instability criteria. For each fracture, none of the five measurements exceeded the predefined clinically or statistically significant criteria for displacement.

Conclusion

Splint removal in the acute postinjury period did not result in distal radius fracture displacement. Clinicians should feel comfortable removing splints and examining underlying soft tissue in the acute setting for patients with distal radius fractures after closed reduction.

Level of Evidence

Level II, prospective comparative study

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