Background: Distal radius fractures (DRFs) are much more prone to malunion than unstable extra-articular fractures. There is no clear consensus concerning what the proper treatment should be, and the best approach to use for displaced DRFs remains challenging.  

Objective: To compare the effect of two different therapeutic surgical methods, i.e., volar plate fixators and external fixators, on outcomes of patients with intra-articular distal radius fractures.

Methods: From May 2010 to November 2014, 76 subjects who had experienced intra-articular fractures of the distal radius were enrolled in this double-blind, randomized, controlled trial in Imam Ali Hospital in Bojnourd, Iran. The patients were divided into two groups, i.e., 1) patients who were treated with internal fixation using the volar plate (group A) and 2) patients who were treated with external fixators (group B). The primary outcome was a composite measure of the patient’s quality of life using three different scores, i.e., 1) the MAYO score, 2) Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder, and Hand (DASH (score,  and 3) the Short Form (36) (SF-36) Health Survey score. 

Results: A total of 76 patients were allocated randomly to groups A and B. The mean ages for external fixator cases and volar plate cases were 51.7 and 46.3, respectively. No significant age distribution was seen between the two groups (p=0.348). Gender distribution between the two groups was not significantly different (p=0.022). Grip power was significantly different between the two groups, but no significant differences were detected in range of motion (p=0.008, p=0.367, respectively). The MAYO score was significantly higher in the open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) group, and, according to the SF-36 test, the ORIF group also a higher level of general mental and physical health, social functioning, and personal physical functioning than the other group. However, postoperatively, the mental discomfort and physical discomfort were more prevalent in the external fixator group. The DASH score was not significantly different between the two groups (p=0.124).

Conclusions: ORIF and its subtitle, volar plate fixation, is a more preferred surgical procedure than the external fixator for the treatment of intra-articular distal radius fractures. This conclusion is important when one considers cost-effectiveness and an earlier return to work. 

Trial registration: The trial is registered at the Thai Clinical Trial Registry (clinicaltrials.in.th) with the TCR identification number TCTR20150609002

Funding: The authors received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


Key words: Distal radius fracture, External fixator method, Internal fixation
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