Radial Head Fractures of the Elbow
The elbow joint is formed by the junction of the humerus (upper arm bone), and radius and ulna (forearm bones). The radius is the shorter of the two forearm bones and can be divided into the head, neck and body. The radial head articulates with the humerus and ulna to form the elbow joint. When you reach out to try to break a fall, the head of the radius is often the area that fractures. Radial head fractures are common injuries that occur more frequently in women.
Symptoms of a radial head fracture may include pain, swelling, and difficulty in turning your forearm or moving your elbow. When you present with these symptoms, your doctor will perform a thorough physical examination and order imaging studies such as X-rays and CT scan to identify the fracture. The fracture is then classified according to severity to aid in appropriate treatment.
Small cracks in the radial head (type I fracture) are treated non-surgically with a splint and immobilized in a sling. A larger fracture with slight dislocation (type II fracture) is treated conservatively with splinting and immobilization; or surgically to remove bone fragments, fix the bones together with screws and a plate, and repair damaged soft tissues. In case of multiple fractures and significant injury to the joint and supporting ligaments (type III fracture), your surgeon will remove or fix the broken pieces and repair soft tissue damage, or replace a severely damaged radial head with a prosthesis. Following treatment, therapy involving stretching exercises should be performed to avoid stiffness of the elbow joint.