Definition: A radial head fracture is the most common broken elbow bone seen in adults. This type of injury is most commonly caused by a fall onto an outstretched hand. Radial head fractures cause pain and swelling around the elbow.
Why is the radial head important?The radial head is shaped like a round disc and is important in motion of the elbow. The radial head moves both in flexion and extension (bending) of the elbow joint, as well as rotation of the forearm. Therefore, injury to the radial head can affect all movements of the elbow.
What is the treatment of a radial head fracture?Treatment of radial head fractures depends on the appearance of the fracture on x-ray. Radial head fractures that are not badly displaced can be managed by splinting the elbow for a short period of time.
More significantly displaced radial head fractures may require surgery for stabilization of the fracture, or possibly an excision of the radial head. Determining which type of treatment is appropriate depends on several factors including the number of bone fragments, injury to other bones and ligaments around the elbow, and activity level of the patient.
If the radial head requires removal, an implant may need to be put in its place to prevent elbow instability. This is only necessary if other bones and/or ligaments have been injured. Otherwise, removal of an isolated radial head injury usually does not cause any impairment in function of the elbow joint.