In many cases, distal radius fractures can be fairly obvious, causing wrist deformity and/or severe swelling. Other symptoms can be more subtle and mistaken for a milder injury, like a sprain.

See Is My Wrist Broken or Sprained?

Symptoms of a distal radius fracture include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Immediate, sharp wrist pain at the moment of a fall or accident, sometimes accompanied by the sound or sensation of a snap
  • Wrist swelling and tenderness, which begins right away and continues to get worse
  • Deformity of the forearm or wrist. The most common type of distal radius fracture is a Colles fracture, which produces a very distinctive sign known as the “dinner fork deformity.” Viewed from the side, the wrist has the appearance of an overturned fork.
  • Numbness and/or inability to move the wrist or hand
  • Inability to perform gripping or squeezing actions
  • Bruising of the wrist and forearm

Intense pain, wrist deformity, hand numbness, or bone matter that has broken the skin are all signs of a fracture that requires immediate medical attention in the emergency room.

See What to Do When a Wrist Injury Occurs

If pain is more manageable and/or there is no obvious sign of deformity, patients may choose to stabilize and ice the wrist first, and then seek medical care the next day or two if symptoms don’t subside.

See Treating Acute Sports and Exercise Injuries in the First 24 to 72 Hours


An imaging test is the only definitive way to diagnose a wrist fracture, so patients who suspect they have suffered a distal radius fracture need to see their physician for proper diagnosis.

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.