Fracture disease diagnosis

Dear Dr. Roach: I am a 63-year-old female who broke her wrist back in June. There were three fractures involving both the radius and the ulna. Surgery was required, with two metal plates installed. After nearly six months of occupational and physical therapy, my wrist and hand still are extremely stiff and have limited range of motion.

I was not ready to accept that nothing further could be done to restore my hand. I went to another hand specialist and was told that I have fracture disease, and a bad case of it. He gave me a cortisone injection into the wrist. That just made the pain in the area worse. It was supposed to help soften up things in the region, but I haven’t noticed that yet.

I’d like more information on what “fracture disease” is. Can it be cured, and what treatments would be recommended? Also, I’m considering removal of the two plates in a future surgery. — C.B.

Answer: I can sometimes figure out what medical professionals say from secondhand information, but this is one time I am at a loss. There are many conditions that increase risk of fracture. The first I would think of in a 63-year-old woman is osteoporosis, which is a loss of bone minerals throughout the body. Osteoporosis usually is diagnosed by a bone density scan (but could possibly be made by surgical specimen), and is most commonly treated with diet, exercise and medication by a generalist, rheumatologist or endocrinologist.

I’m not convinced that that is what is going on. Osteoporosis wouldn’t explain the postoperative problems you are having, so there is some other process, possibly inflammatory, involved. I would suggest another visit with the surgeon who operated on you or the hand specialist to get a more precise diagnosis, and referral, if indicated.