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Assessment of complications associated with casting of acute distal radius fractures in adults

July 13, 2022

Journal: The American Journal of Emergency Medicine

Who: Anna Jorgensen, MD, Joseph Kahan, MD, MPH, Jay Moran BS, Andrea Halim, MD

Overview: Controversy exists regarding the closed treatment of distal radius fractures. Circumferential casting of acute distal radius fractures has been shown to be safe in children, however, little research has demonstrated its safety in adults. The purpose of this study was to assess the risk of complications associated with casting acute distal radius fractures in adult patients.

Patients with a distal radius fracture treated by a single hand surgeon at a level 1 trauma center were retrospectively reviewed over a 3-year period. Patients were evaluated in the emergency room and were provisionally immobilized either with short-arm fiberglass casts or with splints. Patients were followed for a minimum of 4 weeks. Complication rates associated with casting were recorded, including rates of compartment syndrome and acute carpal tunnel syndrome.

Eighty-one patients were included in this study. A total of 30 patients met inclusion criteria for placement of a short arm cast in the Emergency Department. Mean patient age was 63.2 years. The majority of patients sustained their injuries from a ground level fall. A minority of patients had radiographic evidence of intra-articular extension or underwent a reduction prior to casting. There were no patients who developed compartment syndrome or acute carpal tunnel syndrome as a result from the casting. The majority of patients did not require a cast change for at least 4 weeks. None of our patients went on to surgery.

There were no major complications associated with casting of acute, low energy distal radius fractures in this series of 30 adult patients. While further studies with larger numbers of patients are necessary to establish safety of casting, this study suggests that casting may be a safe and effective treatment for low-energy distal radius fractures in adult patients presenting with a normal neurovascular exam.

Submitted by John Ready on July 13, 2022