Elderly Wrist Fractures: Causes and Treatment Options

Geriatric patient holding her broken wrist
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It's no secret that as you age, the risk for wrist fractures increases. This is because, as we age, our bones become weaker and more susceptible to breaking. In fact, wrist fractures are the most common type of arm fracture to occur in adults over 65 years old.¹ There are many dangers associated with these fractures, which is why it's important for seniors and their loved ones to be aware of how to prevent them and how to treat them if they do occur.

Causes of Wrist Fractures in Older Adults

Wrist fractures are a common injury in the elderly population. The most common cause of these fractures is osteoporosis, a condition that causes the bones to become weak and brittle. 

In addition, elderly individuals are more likely to fall, which can also lead to wrist fractures. Falls are often caused by poor balance, muscle weakness, and vision problems. 

Other less common causes of wrist fractures include bone tumors and repetitive stress injuries. 

What Type of Wrist Fracture Is Most Common in the Elderly?

Image of a Colle's fracture
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The most common type of wrist fracture in the elderly is known as a Colles fracture, a type of distal radius fracture. This occurs when the radius, one of the bones in the forearm, breaks near the wrist. 

These fractures tend to result in displacement in elderly people because they have osteoporosis. While there is no cure for osteoporosis, early detection and treatment can help to reduce the likelihood of fractures. 

Treatment of Wrist Fractures in Senior Patients

If you suspect that a loved one has suffered a wrist fracture, it's important to seek medical attention immediately. A doctor will likely order an X-ray to confirm the diagnosis. Once the fracture is confirmed, treatment options will be discussed. In some cases, the bone may need to be surgically repaired. In other cases, a cast or splint may be all that's necessary. 

Non-Surgical Treatment

When it comes to treating broken bones, surgery is not always the best option, especially for older patients. Many of these nonoperative treatment options for older adults are effective in reducing wrist pain and restoring function.

Closed reduction: is a non-surgical treatment that involves setting the bone back into place through manipulation, then holding it in place with a cast or splint. The advantage of closed reduction is that it is less invasive than surgery and can be done on an outpatient basis. It also carries a lower risk of complications, which is especially important for older patients who may have other health concerns.

Cast immobilization without reduction: is where a splint, brace or cast is worn for 4-6 weeks to immobilize the wrist, allowing it to heal properly. Physical therapy will then help to reduce pain and improve the range of motion. 

Surgical Treatment

In some cases, surgery may be necessary to correct the fracture and restore wrist function. However, in general, older patients may be more likely to experience complications from surgery, and their bodies may not heal as quickly. As a result, surgeons may recommend a more conservative approach for elderly patients, with surgery only being considered in cases where the patient has an unstable distal radius fracture, or if the fracture does not heal on its own.

Internal fixation: involves placing metal rods, screws, or plates inside the bone in order to hold it in place while it heals. Elderly patients are more likely to suffer from osteoporosis, which can make bones more fragile and the healing process often takes longer. Internal fixation can help to provide support for the bone while it heals and can also help to speed up the healing process.

This surgery is usually performed under general anesthesia. Recovery time can vary depending on the patient's age and health but is typically around 6-8 weeks. Physical therapy may also be required after surgery in order to regain full use of the affected arm. 

How Long Does It Take for a Broken Wrist to Heal for Patients over 65?

A senior woman with a Colle's fracture using a walker
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Recovery times vary depending on the severity of the fracture, but it takes an average of 6-8 weeks for a broken wrist to heal in adults. However, healing may take longer in elderly adults, due to factors such as decreased bone density and reduced circulation. 

Dangers of Wrist Fractures in the Elderly

Our bodies are amazing machines that are constantly repairing and renewing themselves. However, this process slows down as we age. One of the most noticeable effects is the healing of fractures.

As we get older, our bodies produce fewer stem cells, which are the building blocks for new tissue. This means that it takes longer for wounds to heal and for broken bones to mend. This can lead to a longer recovery time and a greater risk of complications. In addition, wrist fractures can also cause chronic pain and decreased range of motion in the affected joint.

Another serious danger of wrist fractures in the elderly is that they can lead to a loss of independence. Many seniors who suffer from these fractures are unable to continue living on their own and require assistance with activities of daily living. 

Using a Cast21 Alternative for Elderly Wrist Fractures

One size does not fit all when it comes to healthcare. That's why Cast21 has developed a casting alternative for elderly patients who may not be able to use traditional methods of treatment. The company's innovative technology uses a custom-fitted cast that is made from a lightweight material. This allows senior patients to remain mobile and independent, while still getting the support they need to heal. In addition, Cast21’s open-lattice design allows for easy monitoring of the skin for any signs of irritation or infection. As a result, Cast21's alternative provides a much-needed solution for geriatric patients who want to maintain their independence and quality of life. 

We're here to help! If you have any questions or would like to learn more about Cast21, please feel free to get in touch with us.


​​1. Vergara, I., Vrotsou, K., Orive, M., Garcia-Gutierrez, S., Gonzalez, N., Las Hayas, C., & Quintana, J. M. (2016). Wrist fractures and their impact in daily living functionality on elderly people: a prospective cohort study. BMC geriatrics, 16, 11. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12877-015-0176-z

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