A radial head fracture is a break to the radius bone in the forearm just below the elbow joint and usually occurs as a result of a fall onto an outstretched hand. This elbow injury causes instant pain to the joint which would make it very hard to move the arm. There are different grades of this injury which affects how it is treated, read more on this below.
Radial head fracture symptoms
Symptoms of a radial head fracture of the humerus include instant pain at the time of injury which is located on the inside of the elbow joint. Immediate swelling with difficulty turning the arm over and pain when attempting to bend or straighten the elbow.
Most radial head fractures are not displaced, meaning the fractured fragment of bone does not move away from the fracture site. This means they are easier to treat and do not usually require surgery. Radial head fractures are not always seen on early x-rays, although should be clear after 2-3 weeks rest. This injury is also associated with elbow dislocations – with 10% of dislocations involving a radial head fracture.
Radial head fracture treatment
Treatment depends on the presence and amount of displacement. A grade 1 injury with no displacement is initial immobilization with a removable splint followed by relatively early mobility exercises. When displacement is present, surgery may be required. If the fragment is one large piece, this involves fixing it back to the bone with pins or wires. When the fragment is broken into several smaller pieces, the surgeon may opt to remove them altogether.