COMPARATIVE STUDY
JOURNAL ARTICLE

Functional outcome of unstable distal radius fractures: ORIF with a volar fixed-angle tine plate versus external fixation

Thomas W Wright, Marybeth Horodyski, Dean W Smith
Journal of Hand Surgery 2005, 30 (2): 289-99
15781351

PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to compare the outcomes of 2 treatments for unstable distal radius fractures: open reduction internal fixation (ORIF) through a volar approach with a fixed-angle implant and a standard external fixation (EF) method.

METHODS: This study included patients with comminuted unstable intra-articular and extra-articular distal radius fractures treated by a single surgeon. Data were gathered retrospectively on 11 patients treated with EF who had been followed up for an average of 47 months (range, 12-84 mo). Prospective data were gathered on 21 patients who were treated with ORIF through a volar approach with a fixed-angle implant. Follow-up evaluation for this group averaged 17 months (range, 12-24 mo). The 2 groups were compared for range of motion (ROM), strength, and functional outcome as measured by the Patient Rated Wrist Evaluation (PRWE) and the Disability of the Arm, Shoulder, and Hand Questionnaire (DASH). Fracture reduction was evaluated from radiographs taken at the last follow-up visit and compared between groups.

RESULTS: The mean passive wrist ROM at the final follow-up evaluation in EF patients was 59 degrees extension and 57 degrees flexion, compared with 63 degrees extension and 64 degrees flexion in patients treated with ORIF. Passive pronation/supination arc of motion was similar for the 2 groups, as were the DASH and PRWE scores. Grip strength as a percentage of the opposite wrist was significantly greater in the external fixation group, a possible consequence of longer follow-up evaluation. Final radiographic measurements for the EF group averaged 5 degrees volar tilt and 25 degrees radial inclination, with 2.2-mm ulnar-positive variance. The ORIF with volar plating group averaged 10 degrees volar tilt and 22 degrees radial inclination, with .5-mm ulnar-negative variance. Radial length and volar tilt were significantly greater for the ORIF group. The average final intra-articular step-off was significantly different, with 1.4-mm step-off in the EF group and .4 mm in the ORIF group.

CONCLUSIONS: The use of ORIF with a volar fixed-angle implant resulted in stable fixation of the distal articular fragments, allowing early postsurgical wrist motion. The PRWE and DASH scores for the groups were equivalent, whereas intra-articular step-off, volar tilt, and radial length were better in the ORIF group. There were few complications, implant removal was not necessary, and early postsurgical wrist ROM was initiated without loss of reduction.

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