A broken wrist—specifically a distal radius fracture—is one of the most commonly experienced fractures in the body. Studies have shown that it accounts for up to 25% of fractures in children and about 20% of fractures in older adults. 1 Nellans KW, Kowalski E, Chung KC. The epidemiology of distal radius fractures. Hand Clin. 2012;28(2):113-25.

See Guide to Wrist Anatomy

The wrist is a complicated joint, and there are several potential ways its bones can be fractured or displaced. The most common type of fracture is a break of the radius bone, a long forearm bone. This is known as a distal radius fracture.

A distal radius fracture occurs near the wrist joint on the thumb side, and it is typically the result of a fall onto an outstretched arm. The term distal radius fracture is sometimes used interchangeably with the term “broken wrist.” It can also be referred to as a Colles fracture, which is a common type of distal radius fracture in which the broken portion of the radius is tilted upward.

Classifications of Fractures


There are several factors that can help physicians classify the type of fracture and determine the best course of treatment:

  • Intra-articular vs. extra-articular. These terms indicate whether the fracture extends into the radiocarpal joint—the joint between the radius and the first row of carpal bones in the wrist—or not. Fractures that involve the joint (intra-articular) are typically harder to treat and heal.
  • Displaced vs. nondisplaced. These terms describes whether the bones or fragments have moved out of place or are still in place.
  • Comminuted. A comminuted fracture is a break or splinter of the bone into more than two fragments.
  • Compound. A compound fracture breaks the skin and will require a physician to repair close the wound. A compound fracture raises the risk of infection.

Physicians can determine the classification of a fracture through imaging tests such as X-ray.


When a distal radius fracture occurs, there are several surgical and nonsurgical treatment options available to heal the fracture and restore wrist function.

  • 1 Nellans KW, Kowalski E, Chung KC. The epidemiology of distal radius fractures. Hand Clin. 2012;28(2):113-25.

Dr. Daniel Laino is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in hand, wrist, and elbow conditions. He practices with OrthoVirginia, where he has several years of experience performing arthritis surgery and joint replacement.