Elbow Fracture / Radial Head Fracture

Radial Head Fracture

We instinctively put our arms out to protect us from a fall or from impact. This instinct can lead to elbow fractures. The most common type of elbow fracture is a radial head fracture. Radial head fractures occur most often from:

Radial Head Fracture Symptoms

Many times a radial head fracture goes undiagnosed initially. About 20% of dislocated elbows are also fractured. Sometimes x-rays need to be taken from multiple angles to reveal the fracture. If you have dislocated your elbow and you are having the following symptoms, you may have a radial head fracture:

  • pain toward the outside of the elbow
  • swelling is not subsiding
  • bending or straightening the elbow is difficult
  • inability to rotate the forearm

Elbow Fracture Types

There are three types of radial head fractures:

These fractures are small cracks in the radial head. All of the bone fragments remain in place. These fractures are most visible on x-ray about 3 weeks after the injury. Type I fractures are treated with a splint or sling. The bones may become displaced if motion is attempted too soon.

These fractures involve larger pieces of bone, and those pieces may be out of alignment. With minimal displacement, splinting is an option. Surgery may be recommended to remove small fragments or to stabilize the bone with pins or screws.

This is the most severe fracture with the head in many pieces and the pieces may not fit together. There is usually major damage to the joint and soft tissue. Surgery is required to clean up fragments, secure the radial head or replace it with an artificial head, and repair soft tissue injuries. Early motion is recommended to alleviate stiffness.

  • Type I
  • Type II
  • Type III

Radial Head Fracture Complications

Due to the design of the elbow, there is very little soft tissue around the joint to supply blood. Fractured fragments can lose their blood supply, which can result in avascular necrosis (bone death) and even nonunion.

Other complications include:

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