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Distinct patterns of fracture propagation in distal radial fractures and the relationship to the ulnar head.

BACKGROUND: The aim was to assess the direction of distal radius fractures and their relationship to the ulnar head.

METHODS: We reviewed the 160 wrist radiographs. The fracture line was measured on the postero-anterior and lateral radiographs relative to the long axis of the forearm and the relationship to the ulnar head.

FINDINGS: PA radiographs: the fracture line ran distal ulnar to proximal radial (ulnar to radial) in 11%, transverse in 74% and distal radial to proximal ulnar (radial to ulnar) in 16%. Lateral radiographs: the fracture line ran distal volar to proximal dorsal in 88%, transverse in two 1% and dorsal to volar in 11%. Radial shift (7.5%) only occurred with ulnar to radial or transverse fractures. The ulnar to radial fracture line started at the proximal end of the ulnar head/distal radio-ulnar joint in 88%. The radial to ulnar fracture line started ended a mean of 2.5 mm proximal to the distal radio-ulnar joint (p < 0.01). The transverse fracture line started at the base of the distal radio-ulnar joint in 53% and proximally in 47%.

INTERPRETATION: There are two distinct coronal patterns: radial to ulnar ending c. 2 mm proximal to the distal radio-ulnar joint; ulnar to radial starting at the proximal distal radio-ulnar joint. There may be third pattern - transverse fractures; these may be variants of the above. Sagittally the main direction is volar to dorsal but 11% are obverse. This is the first description of distinct fracture patterns in extra-articular distal radius fractures. In addition the fracture patterns appear to correlate with different directions of force transmission which fit with our understanding of falling and the relatively uncontrolled impact of the wrist/hand with the ground. These patterns of fracture propagation help understand how the biomechanics of wrist fractures and may enable prediction of collapse.

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