PURPOSE:
To determine whether volar locking plates (VLP) are superior to external fixation (EF) with adjuvant pins in unstable distal radius fractures after 5 years of follow-up.

METHODS:
We randomized 111 unstable distal radius fractures to treatment with either a VLP or EF using adjuvant pins. The patients' mean age was 54 years (range, 20-84 y). Twenty patients were lost to follow-up. At 5 years, 91 patients (82%) were assessed using the visual analog scale (VAS) pain score, Mayo wrist score, Quick Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand (QuickDASH) questionnaire, range of motion, and radiological evaluation. The QuickDASH score at 5 years was the primary outcome measure.

RESULTS:
The QuickDASH score was not statistically significantly different between the groups (VLP 10 vs EF 13) at 5 years. Patients with VLP had statistically significant better supination (85° vs 81°), better radial deviation (18° vs 16°), and less radial shortening (1 mm vs 2 mm). For AO/OTA type C2 fractures, the VLP had statistically significant better supination (84° vs 78°), flexion (64° vs 56°), grip strength (34 kg vs 28 kg), Mayo wrist score (92 vs 76), and less ulnar shortening (1 mm vs 3 mm). The QuickDASH score in the C2 subset analysis showed a difference of 10 (VLP 8 vs EF 18), but this was not statistically significant. In the VLP group, 11 patients (21%) had their plates removed owing to surgically related complications. In the EF group, 5 patients had proximal radial scar correction surgery owing to skin contracture.

CONCLUSIONS:
The findings were satisfactory for both groups at 5 years. The VLP provided statistically significantly better results for several clinical outcomes in the C2 subset analysis. However, 21% of the VLPs were removed because of surgical complications.

TYPE OF STUDY/LEVEL OF EVIDENCE:
Therapeutic I.



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