The impact of patient activity level on wrist disability after distal radius malunion in older adults

Gregory N. Nelson, Jeffrey G. Stepan, Daniel A. Osei, Ryan P. Calfee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Objective: To determine if high-activity older adults are adversely affected by distal radius malunion. Design: Cross-sectional study. Setting: Hand clinics at a tertiary institution. Participants: Ninety-six patients 60 years or older at the time of fracture were evaluated at least 1 year after distal radius fracture. Intervention: Physical Activity Scale of the Elderly scores stratified participants into high- and low-activity groups. Malunions were defined radiographically by change of ≥20 degrees of lateral tilt, ≥15 degrees radial inclination, ≥4 mm of ulnar variance, or ≥4 mm intra-articular gap or step-off, compared with the uninjured wrist. Main Outcome Measure: Patient-rated disability of the upper extremity was measured by the QuickDASH and visual analog scales (VAS) for pain/function. Strength and motion measurements objectively quantified wrist function. Results: High-activity participants with a distal radius malunion were compared with high-activity participants with well-aligned fractures. There was no significant difference in QuickDASH scores, VAS function, strength, and wrist motion despite statistically, but not clinically, relevant increases in VAS pain scores (difference 0.5, P = 0.04) between the groups. Neither physical Activity Scale of the Elderly score (β = 0.001, 95% confidence interval: -0.002 to 0.004) nor malunion (β = 0.133, 95% confidence interval: -0.26 to 0.52) predicted QuickDASH scores in regression modeling after accounting for age, sex, and treatment. Operative management failed to improve outcomes and resulted in decreased grip strength (P = 0.05) and more frequent complications (26% vs. 7%, P = 0.01) when compared with nonoperative management. Conclusions: Even among highly active older adults, distal radius malunion does not affect functional outcomes. Judicious use of operative management is warranted provided heightened complication rates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-200
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of orthopaedic trauma
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 21 2015


  • Activity level
  • Distal radius fracture
  • Elderly
  • Malunion
  • Older adults
  • Physiological age


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