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Radial Head Fracture

  • Elbow


This condition involves a fracture of the radius bone, one of the 2 forearm bones, at the elbow.


What are the causes and risks of the injury?

This condition is usually caused by a fall on the outstretched arm. The risk of a radial head fracture is greatest in a person who has a disease that limits motion of the elbow or forearm, such as arthritis. Osteoporosis, or thinning of the bones, also increases the risks for fractures.


What can be done to prevent the injury?

Precautions should be taken to prevent falls. A diet rich in calcium and regular weight-bearing exercise can help to build strong bones.


How is the injury recognized?

Diagnosis is based on a history of elbow pain after a fall. Physical exam and joint x-rays confirm the diagnosis.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

There are no risks to others.


What are the treatments for the injury?

Initial treatment involves first aid using RICE (rest, ice, compression with bandage and/or splint, and elevation). After diagnosis by physical exam and x-rays, most radial head fractures are treated simply with an arm sling. This simple technique usually results in complete recovery in about 6 weeks.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (i.e. Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Naprosyn, Aleve, Anaprox, Naprelan) can help reduce swelling and pain. For complex or unusually severe radial head fractures, surgery may be necessary. Surgery may involve repair of the radial head, removal of a mashed bone, and sometimes replacement with a metal or plastic spacer.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

NSAIDs may have adverse effects on the stomach, kidneys, or liver.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the injury?

Physical therapy may help in regaining motion and strength after injury or operation. If surgery is necessary, infection is always possible. After the fracture heals, there may be limitation of motion of the elbow and forearm. Also, arthritis of the elbow joint, weakness, or pain may result. A healthcare professional will watch for progress in restoring range of motion and strength

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