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Broken Wrist (Colles Fracture)

Broken Wrist (Colles Fracture)

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What is a Colles Fracture?

The technical-sounding Colles fracture is simply one affecting the radius bone just above your wrist in your forearm.

This is more commonly called a broken wrist and will almost always cause intense pain and the need for rehabilitation and wrist support. The complex name derives from Abraham Colles, the Dublin doctor who was the first to describe the injury in 1814. Since then, advances in modern technology and equipment continue to make diagnosing and treating the condition easier and more effective.

Causes and symptoms

This common complaint will almost always cause severe discomfort and swelling. Other symptoms include not being able to use the hand and wrist and the appearance of what is known as a dinner fork or bayonet deformity.

It is often caused by a person falling onto an outstretched hand and is very common, particularly among sportsmen and women. Every year around 100,000 snowboarders, for example, suffer from fractures to the wrist.

Treatments for a broken wrist

If you suffer a broken wrist you should head to the nearest accident and emergency department. Ice packs may be helpful to ease the pain. Once the fracture is diagnosed using an X-ray, you will need a cast to stop the bones from moving while the fracture heals. This should take around six weeks. You should also keep your wrist elevated for 72 hours after your injury to help minimise swelling.

This simplest form of treatment will only be effective, however, if the pieces of fractured bone are close together and aligned well. If not, a doctor may have to manipulate the pieces of broken bone back into the right position. This would be a very painful process and so it is normally done under anaesthetic. Once the bone is in the right place, a cast will be applied and, again, the healing process should take around six weeks. Your wrist will probably need to be X-rayed again after around a fortnight to check that it is healing.

It will depend on the opinion of your doctor, but you may be able to wear a removable cast after around two or three weeks. This sort of removable wrist support is lighter and more comfortable than a conventional plaster yet still provides the same level of support. They also make keeping looking after the skin under the cast easier by allowing it to be removed for washing.


You should start your rehabilitation straight away by ensuring that the fingers, thumb, and shoulder do not become stiff. This can also help to improve wrist swelling. Once your doctor is satisfied that your bone has joined back together, you should be able to stop wearing your cast and you can start a more active rehabilitation program.

If your wrist was held in a plaster of Paris cast, doing exercise in warm water will help rehydrate the skin and can provide support as you begin to move the joint. It will also be important to strengthen the muscles again and resistance exercises are helpful. Physiotherapists recommend using finger and grip strengtheners, hand therapy balls, and therapeutic putty.


It can be difficult to prevent a broken wrist but if you take part in an activity known to be risky activity, such as snowboarding, you should wear a wrist support or guard that will protect the bone and the joint.