In this article, I address the most frequently asked questions from people who have just fractured the radius, the largest bone in the forearm. Specifically, I discuss the time required for consolidation and healing.
Happy reading 🙂!
Summary: Radius fractures are common and well-known. The bone typically heals well within 6-8 weeks (1.5 to 2 months). It is often possible to gradually resume normal use of the arm from this point onward, or even earlier.
Last update: November 2023
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Written by Nelly Darbois, physical therapist and scientific writer
What are the different types of radius fractures?
Normally, you have a precise idea of the type of radius fracture you have by looking at:
- Your X-ray report (or other imaging such as a CT scan or MRI)
- Your medical or surgical consultation report, or emergency room record.
The radius can break at different locations, either at its two ends or in the middle.
When it breaks at the bottom, at the lower end, it is called a wrist fracture.
More specifically, it can be a Colles’ fracture or a fracture in a “butterfly wing” pattern.
When it breaks at the top, at the upper end, it is called an elbow fracture.
More specifically, it can be a radial head fracture or a radial neck fracture.
When it breaks between these two ends, it is called a shaft radius fracture.
Like any bone, fractures can take various forms.
- Non-displaced radius fractures: The bone fragments are close together.
- Displaced radius fractures: There is a significant gap between the different pieces of broken bone. These fractures may require surgery and take a little longer to heal.
- Open fractures: Where the bone protrudes through the skin. These almost always require surgery.
- Stress fracture of the radius.
What is the healing & recovery time for a radius fracture?
The healing time for a radius fracture is typically around 6 to 8 weeks, approximately 2 months. That’s why a follow-up X-ray is often taken about 1.5 to 2 months after the fracture.
For fractures of the radius shaft (which often require surgery), the consolidation time is usually around 2 to 3 months (Small 2022).
The radius is a bone that consolidates relatively quickly and smoothly, mainly for two reasons:
- There is another bone in the forearm (called the ulna) that provides stability.
- The radius is well-vascularized, meaning it receives good blood flow, and it is through the blood that molecules aiding bone healing are transported.
If you have other traumas, a displaced or complex fracture, or conditions affecting your overall health, the consolidation time may be longer.
How long does pain last after a radius fracture?
When you break a bone like the radius, there is an immediate inflammatory response in the injury area:
- Your body sends more blood to the injured area.
- This often causes swelling and pain.
It’s an automatic mechanism that brings nutrients and other molecules your bone and damaged tissues need for healing through circulation.
However, this mechanism also causes pain, which can last for several weeks (without being a sign of complication). Normally, it diminishes over the days and weeks.
Sometimes, you might experience more pain at night, as inflammation is often more pronounced in the later part of the night.
Can you accelerate the healing time of a radius fracture? Treatment
Some radius fractures require surgery and the placement of hardware (plates, screws) to stabilize the fracture and promote consolidation, especially in adults. This is surgical treatment.
But in many cases, you won’t need surgery. Your bone will heal on its own.
To promote this natural healing, you’ll likely have a splint or cast to restrict excessive mobility in the fractured area. This is called orthopedic or conservative treatment.
Depending on the medical team you’re under (and, of course, your fracture, history, health status), you may receive sometimes very different recommendations.
If you find the given instructions too challenging to follow due to restrictions, you can always discuss this with your physiotherapist or doctor to see the flexibility you have.
There is no magic medication or remedy to speed up bone healing. However, you can:
- Minimize your alcohol and tobacco consumption, as these substances slow down healing.
- Stay as active as possible to prevent complications related to sedentary behavior and immobility, and to activate your blood circulation, which drains everything your radius needs for proper healing.
- If you are over 65 or have osteoporosis, taking vitamin D (or monitoring your intake of this vitamin in your diet) can support bone healing.
How long should a cast be worn for a radius fracture?
You will receive specific instructions on this from the person applying the cast. Often, a follow-up X-ray will be taken before removing the cast to ensure that the consolidation is progressing well.
Generally, a cast (or splint) is worn for at least 4 to 6 weeks in adults (and slightly less in children).
In rare cases, the follow-up X-ray shows a delay in consolidation (sometimes called pseudarthrosis). In such cases, the use of the cast or splint is often extended a bit more to see if it still promotes bone healing.
Is rehabilitation & physical therapy necessary after a radius fracture?
In France, physical therapy sessions are often prescribed after a radius fracture in adults (and sometimes in children).
Rehabilitation is usually initiated only after you have removed the splint or cast. Sometimes it starts earlier, providing a more precise idea of what you can do during the consolidation period.
And sometimes, after surgery, movements in the wrist and elbow are allowed as early as the first week following a shaft fracture of the radius (the middle of the bone). (Small 2022)
The purpose of physical therapy sessions (or self-rehabilitation) DURING the healing period is to maintain the flexibility of your joints as much as possible, within the allowed limits, and also to maintain your overall fitness.
Once healing is achieved or well underway, the goals are to gradually regain all your pre-fracture abilities: flexibility in the immobilized joint, muscular and functional capacities to reuse your arm.
During the healing period, it is generally recommended not to lift anything with the fractured arm to avoid putting too much strain on the fractured area.
However, increasingly, strict immobilization of the elbow and wrist is not recommended. On the contrary, a cautious but early mobilization is encouraged in the week following the fracture.
How long before returning to work after a radius fracture?
There is no maximum or minimum time frame for taking time off work after fracturing the radius. It depends on your professional activity, your dynamics, and the advice from the doctors you consult.
As a rough guideline, (french) health insurance provides indicative sick leave durations for certain fractures, with or without surgery:
- Fracture of the lower end of the radius: 7 to 85 days
- Wrist fracture: 3 to 84 days
- Elbow fracture: 7 to 90 days.
Here’s what I wanted to tell you about this! I wish you a very good recovery! Do you have any comments or questions? Your comments are welcome 🙂 !
If you feel the need to learn more about the recovery period after an injury, I wrote this guide in eBook format:
You may also like:
Small RF, Taqi M, Yaish AM. Radius and Ulnar Shaft Fractures. [Updated 2022 Dec 28]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557681/
Arrêts de travail référentiels de durée Assurance maladie ici
Corsino CB, Reeves RA, Sieg RN. Distal Radius Fractures. [Updated 2023 Aug 8]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK536916/
Written by Nelly Darbois
I love writing articles based on my experience as a physiotherapist (since 2012), scientific writer, and extensive researcher in international scientific literature.
I live in the French Alps 🌞❄️, where I work as a scientific editor for my own website, which is where you are right now.