Fractures – Radial Head | Orthopaedics | Loyola Medicine

Fractures – Radial Head

Overview and Facts about Radial Head Fractures

The radial head is the part of one of your upper arm bones (radius) nearest your elbow. Fractures of the radial head are common injuries and may also involve elbow dislocation. This injury usually occurs due to a fall onto an outstretched hand or other high-energy traumatic event. Treatment may be surgical or non-surgical, depending on the severity of the fracture. 

Symptoms of Arthritis and Osteoarthritis of Radial Head Fractures

Symptoms of a radial head fracture include:

  • Pain on the outside of the elbow or when rotating the forearm
  • Swelling in the elbow joint
  • Limited range of motion at the elbow when turning the palm up and down
  • Tenderness at the fracture site 

Causes and Risk Factors of Radial Head Fractures

The most common cause of a radial head fracture is a fall onto an outstretched hand or other traumatic event. This injury can also be caused by a low-impact fall if the patient is older and has signs of bone fragility or osteoporosis. Men and women are at an equal risk of a radial head fracture, and it occurs most often in patients between 30 and 40 years old. 

Tests and Diagnosis of Radial Head Fractures

To diagnose a radial head fracture, your doctor will go over your medical history, including any recent falls or traumatic events that may have caused this injury. He/she will also assess your elbow for signs of tenderness, swelling and dislocation, as well as ask you to rotate your elbow and forearm to check for changes in range of motion.

Your doctor may also order X-rays to see how damaged the radial head is, which will help him/her determine the appropriate course of treatment. 

Treatment and Care for Radial Head Fractures

Fractures of the radial head may be treated with either non-surgical or surgical methods, depending on the severity of the injury and how far out of alignment the bones are.

Small fractures may be treated by wearing a sling or splint for several days up to two weeks, followed by a gradual return to activity and range of motion exercises.

If the fracture involves bones that have been displaced (moved out of place), your doctor may recommend surgery with open reduction and internal fixation, which involves placing screws or plates to hold the bones together.

If the fracture is severe, it may be necessary to remove the radial head and replace it with a prosthetic implant to improve long-term function.

Any surgery should be followed by a period of physical therapy as prescribed by your doctor. He/she will monitor your progress and determine when it is safe to return to daily activities and/or sports.