To compare operative and nonoperative treatment for displaced distal radius fractures in patients aged over 65 years.
A total of 100 patients were randomized in this non-inferiority trial, comparing cast immobilization with operation with a volar locking plate. Patients with displaced AO/OTA A and C fractures were eligible if one of the following were found after initial closed reduction: 1) dorsal angulation > 10°; 2) ulnar variance > 3 mm; or 3) intra-articular step-off > 2 mm. Primary outcome measure was the abbreviated version of the Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand questionnaire (QuickDASH) after 12 months. Secondary outcome measures were the Patient-Rated Wrist and Hand Evaluation (PRWHE), EuroQol-5 dimensions 5-level questionnaire (EQ-5D-5L), range of motion (ROM), grip strength, “satisfaction with wrist function” (score 0 to 10), and complications.
In all, 89 women and 11 men were included. Mean age was 74 years (65 to 91). Nonoperative treatment was non-inferior to operation with a five-point difference in median QuickDASH after 12 months (p = 0.206). After three and six months QuickDASH favoured the operative group (p = 0.010 and 0.030). Median values for PRWHE were 19 (interquartile range (IRQ) 10 to 32) in the operative group versus ten (IQR 1 to 31) in the nonoperative group at three months (p = 0.064), nine (IQR 2 to 20) versus five (IQR 0 to 13) (p = 0.020) at six months, and two (IQR 0 to 12) versus zero (IQR 0 to 8) (p = 0.019) after 12 months. Range of motion was similar between the groups. The EQ-5D-5L index score was better (mean difference 0.07) in the operative group at three and 12 months (p = 0.008 and 0.020). The complication rate was similar (p = 0.220). The operated patients were more satisfied with wrist function (median 8 (IQR 6 to 9) vs 6 (IQR 5 to 7) at three months, p = 0.002; 9 (IQR 7 to 9) vs 8 (IQR 6 to 8) at six months, p = 0.002; and 10 (IQR 8 to 10) vs 8 (IQR 7 to 9) at 12 months, p < 0.001).
Nonoperative treatment was non-inferior to operative treatment based on QuickDASH after one year. Patients in the operative group had a faster recovery and were more satisfied with wrist function. Results from previous trials comparing operative and nonoperative treatment for displaced distal radius fractures in the elderly vary between favouring the operative group and showing similar results between the treatments. This randomized trial suggests that most elderly patients may be treated nonoperatively.
Cite this article: Bone Joint J 2021;103-B(2):247–255.