Pathology Spotlight: Galeazzi Fracture of the Radius

In February’s Pathology Spotlight, Professor Ken Donaldson, Senior Research Fellow in the Museum takes explains Galeazzi Fractures.

radial fractureJPG
The left hand and forearm of an adult with an open fracture of the ulna and displacement of the end of the radius.

 

The radius, the forearm bone that connects to the thumb, has been broken by trauma near its end (arrow) and the hand is deflected upwards. The ulna has retained its position but the forced lateral and upward movement of the fractured radius has also broken the end off the ulna. The broken-off end of the ulna has remained connected to the bones of the wrist but the rest of the bone has torn through the strong tissue that connects it to the radius and the end has pushed out through the skin (U).  This is shown diagrammatically in the below figure.

Fracture diagram

 

The two bones of the forearm, the radius and ulna, are strongly connected. Whenever one of the two bones is broken and displaces, something has to happen to the other bone to accommodate this. The ligaments attaching the two bones must tear or the other bone can fracture, as has happened in this case. This is called a Galeazzi fracture, a fracture of the radius resulting in its dislocation from the ulna. It is caused by a fall on an outstretched hand with the elbow flexed and in this case it is a compound or open fracture, where the skin is breached by the bone, posing the risk of infection. This specimen was collected in 1926 prior to antibiotics being generally available and so there was a high likelihood of infection.

Fractures are extremely common but this is an unusual pattern and is likely to have been caused by a major accident such as a fall from a height. The fracture is named after Ricardo Galeazzi (1866–1952), an Italian surgeon from Milan, who first described the fracture in 1934.

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