A Colles fracture is a break of the radius bone at the wrist. The radius, which is one of two bones in the forearm and is located on the thumb side, supports most of the forces at the wrist. Falling on an outstretched hand is the most common cause of distal radius fractures; however, these fractures also occur in other high-impact events such as car and sports accidents.
There are two types of Colles fracture. A Colles fracture is most common and occurs when the palm experiences a direct impact such as falling on the hand to break a fall. In a Colles fracture, the wrist breaks away from the center of the radius at an upward angle. A Smith fracture is less common and affects the back of the wrist. It tends to occur from falling on a bent wrist. In a Smith fracture, the wrist breaks down toward the palm side of the hand.
Colles fractures are often very painful and result in swelling and tenderness at the wrist. The wrist will often appear to be deformed or in an unusual position. Some numbness and tingling in the fingers is also possible.
Colles fracture are diagnosed by a physician in an exam. X-rays are also required to confirm the diagnosis and to determine the angle and severity of the break.
Treatment of Colles fracture varies depending on if the break is clean or severe. Simple fractures can be treated without surgery in a splint or cast until the bone heals. Physical therapy will also be used to regain wrist mobility and strength. Surgery may be required if the fracture is unstable and cannot be realigned with a cast.