Unstable distal radius fractures in the elderly patient—volar fixed-angle plate osteosynthesis prevents secondary loss of reduction

Markus Figl, Patrick Weninger, Josef Jurkowitsch, Marcus Hofbauer, Josef Schauer, Martin Leixnering
Journal of Trauma 2010, 68 (4): 992-8

BACKGROUND: Because of demographic changes in industrialized countries, signifying a growing population of the aged and a markedly increased life expectancy, the incidence of the distal radius fracture is expected to increase by a further 50% until the year 2030. Osteoporosis characterizes the radius fracture in elderly patients. Primarily weakening metaphyseal bone, osteoporosis renders simple fractures unstable and makes distal bone fixation a challenge. The introduction of fixed-angle plate systems for extension fractures of the radius was evaluated in a prospective study performed at our hospital after selection and acquisition of a new plating system. The focus of our interest was whether a secondary loss of reduction can be prevented by this plating system in the elderly patient.

METHODS: We reviewed 58 patients aged 75 years or older treated for unstable distal radius fractures using a volar fixed-angle plate. Postoperative management included immediate finger motion, early functional use of the hand, wrist splint used for 4 weeks, and physiotherapy. At the time of follow-up, after a mean period of 13 months (range, 12-15 months), standard radiographic and clinical fracture parameters were measured and final functional results were assessed.

RESULTS: Bone healing had occurred in all patients at the time of follow-up. On X-rays taken at the time of follow-up, 53 patients (91%) had no radial shortening, 5 patients (9%) had a mean radial shortening occurred during follow-up of only 1.3 mm (range, 1-2 mm) compared with the contralateral side. Comparing the first postoperative X-rays with those taken at final evaluation showed no measurable loss of reduction in the volar tilt or radial inclination. Castaing's score yielded a perfect outcome in 25 cases, a good outcome in 30 cases, and an adequate outcome in 3 cases. On an average, the range of motion was reduced by 19% during extension/flexion, by 13% during radial/ulnar deviation, and by 9% in pronation/supination compared with the contralateral side. Grip strength was 55% higher than that of the contralateral side. Eleven patients (19%) reported pain at rest with a mean Visual Analog Pain Scale score of 3.1 (range, 1-6), whereas 30 patients (52%) had pain on load-bearing with a mean Visual Analog Pain Scale score of 3.4 (range, 1-8). The mean disabilities of the arm, shoulder, and hand (DASH) score (Jester A, Harth A, Germann G. J Hand Surg Am. 2005;30:1074.e1-1074.e10) was 28 points. A carpal tunnel syndrome with abnormal nerve conduction velocity was diagnosed in three patients, a rupture of the flexor pollicis longus tendon was seen in one patient.

CONCLUSION: Fixed-angle plate osteosynthesis at the distal radius in the elderly patient signifies a significant improvement in the treatment of distal radial fractures in terms of restoration of the shape and function of the wrist associated with a low complication rate. This technique with its simple palmar access, allows exact anatomic reduction of the fracture, allows early return to function, and minimizes morbidity in the elderly patient. Secondary correction loss can be prevented by this procedure.

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