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BACKGROUND: In high-income countries, 6% of all women will have sustained a fracture of the wrist (distal radius) by the age of 80 years and 9% by the age of 90 years. Advances in orthopaedic surgery have improved the outcome for patients: many such fractures can be treated in a plaster cast alone, but others require surgical fixation to hold the bone in place while they heal. The existing evidence suggests that modern locking-plate fixation provides improved functional outcomes, but costs more than traditional wire fixation. METHODS: In this multicentre trial, we randomly assigned 461 adult patients having surgery for an acute dorsally displaced fracture of the distal radius to either percutaneous Kirschner-wire fixation or locking-plate fixation. The primary outcome measure was the Patient-Rated Wrist Evaluation© (PRWE) questionnaire at 12 months after the fracture. In this surgical trial, neither the patients nor the surgeons could be blind to the intervention. We also collected information on complications and combined costs and quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs) to assess cost-effectiveness. RESULTS: The baseline characteristics of the two groups were well balanced and over 90% of patients completed follow-up. Both groups of patients recovered wrist function by 12 months. There was no clinically relevant difference in the PRWE questionnaire score at 3 months, 6 months or 12 months [difference at 12 months: -1.3; 95% confidence interval (CI) -4.5 to 1.8; p=0.398]. There was no difference in the number of complications in each group and small differences in QALY gains (0.008; 95% CI -0.001 to 0.018); Kirschner-wire fixation represents a cost-saving intervention (-£727; 95% CI -£588 to -£865), particularly in younger patients. CONCLUSIONS: Contrary to the existing literature, and against the increasing use of locking-plate fixation, this trial shows that there is no difference between Kirschner wires and volar locking plates for patients with dorsally displaced fractures of the distal radius. A Kirschner-wire fixation is less expensive and quicker to perform. TRIAL REGISTRATION: Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN31379280. FUNDING: This project was funded by the NIHR Health Technology Assessment programme and will be published in full in Health Technology Assessment; Vol. 19, No. 17. See the NIHR Journals Library website for further project information.

Original publication




Journal article


Health technol assess

Publication Date





1 - vi


Bone Plates, Bone Wires, Female, Fractures, Bone, Humans, Male, Quality-Adjusted Life Years, Radius, Single-Blind Method, United Kingdom