Distal radius fracture (DRF) is the most common fracture encountered in clinical practice. Every year, more than 20000 people in Sweden suffer from this injury. It has been shown that there is a correlation between malalignment and function following distal radial fractures and malunion may cause persistent pain and disability.
A problem has been in making a correct initial assessment of the fracture. Many fractures are unstable despite an acceptable position on the initial radiographic examination or following a successful closed fracture reduction.
Numerous classification systems have been developed for evaluation of DRF in order to predict the outcome. However, the values of these are limited since they have not shown satisfactory reliability. Furthermore, the utility of these systems to predict radiographic or clinical outcome is not yet proven. These shortcomings may be one reason why optimal DRF management is still controversial. Requests for a new classification system of DRF, predictive of outcome and easy to use, have been made.
Improvement in initial assessment of DRF will benefit a large group of patients, as well as the society, by reducing persistent symptoms and disability.
Study I: In this study we evaluated the interobserver and intraobserver reliability of a new classification system (the Buttazzoni classification). Two hundred and thirty-two patients with acute DRF were blindly evaluated using the new classification by three orthopaedic surgeons twice with a 1-year interval. The new classification showed fair to substantial interobserver and intraobserver reliability, i.e., results comparable with other commonly used classification systems.
Study II: This was a prospective multicenter study of fracture stability in 428 DRF. The study investigated whether cortical comminution and intra-articular involvement, as well as the new classification system, could predict displacement in DRF. Logistic regression analysis showed that initial position of the fracture and volar or dorsal comminution predicted later displacement, while intra-articular involvement did not. Volar comminution was the strongest predictor of displacement. The new classification system, which is the first to include volar comminution as a separate parameter, was highly predictive of fracture instability. Furthermore we found that it is quite common for non-operatively treated fractures to displace at a later stage than two weeks.
Study IV: In study II it was found that late displacement of DRF, still in acceptable radiologic position after 10-14 days, occurred in approximately 1/3 of cases. Despite this, we have not been able to find any study focusing on evaluating the clinical outcome in patients with late displacement. Two hundred and nine unilateral DRF from study II were still in good position after 10-14 days and were included in the study. One hundred and seventy five patients had radiographs taken at a minimum of 3 months and a clinical examination 1 year after the fracture. Late displaced distal radius fractures had significantly higher loss of ROM and grip strength compared to fractures that didn’t displace. No significant differences were seen in subjective outcome.
In conclusion, initial position of the fracture predicted later displacement and was the most important parameter in predicting clinical outcome. Comminution of the fracture also affected radiological stability and clinical outcome. Volar comminuted fractures are highly unstable and need surgical intervention if displacement is to be avoided. Intra-articular involvement affected clinical outcome. Late displacement is common in DRF and may result in loss of range of motion and grip strength. To detect late displacement, DRF should be followed for more than 2 weeks.
The new classification system had a moderate reliability and reproducibility. The classification was found predictive of radiologic and objective clinical outcome. However, it was not predictive of subjective outcome. The classification system was also predictive of fractures at risk for late displacement.