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What is a Radial Head Fracture?

A radial head fracture is a break in the bone at the elbow's top, often caused by falls or direct impacts. It can lead to pain, swelling, and limited arm movement. Understanding this injury is crucial for effective treatment and recovery. How does this fracture affect your daily life, and what are the steps to heal? Join us as we examine the journey to recovery.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A radial head fracture is a fracture which occurs at the radial head, an area of the radius, a bone in the forearm, which makes up part of the elbow. This fracture is also known as an elbow fracture, although in fact elbow fractures can involve several different bones, not necessarily the radius, because the radial head fracture is the most common type of elbow fracture. Treatment options for this type of fracture vary, depending on how severe it is.

Most commonly, people develop a radial head fracture because they put a hand out to break a fall. The impact of the fall travels up the arm to the elbow, breaking the radial head. Fractures of other bones in the elbow can occur at the same time, and the elbow joint may become dislocated as well. Patients usually notice when they have this type of fracture, because their elbows feel hot, swollen, and extremely painful, and their range of motion may be significantly limited.

The radius is a bone in the forearm that makes up part of the elbow.
The radius is a bone in the forearm that makes up part of the elbow.

Radial head fractures are classified as Type I, Type II, or Type III. Type I fractures are the least severe, and they may be treatable with a simple splint or cast. Type II fractures are somewhat more complex, usually requiring surgery to pin the bone for healing, and Type III fractures involve a breakage so severe that multiple pieces of bone are created during the break, and it may be necessary to remove the radial head and replace it with a graft or artificial joint.

Some types of radial head fractures are treated with a cast or splint and sling.
Some types of radial head fractures are treated with a cast or splint and sling.

A major concern with a radial head fracture is that it can be difficult to identify on an x-ray. A patient may be x-rayed and show no signs, and given minimal treatment, only to return in several weeks, complaining of continuing pain. The later x-ray usually shows more damage to the elbow, caused by nonunion of the broken bone or by healing at a bad angle. For this reason, doctors try to be very careful with the diagnosis of elbow injuries, taking time to determine whether or not a fracture has occurred.

These fractures are seen more commonly in women than men, and tend to be most frequent in people between the ages of 30 and 40. However, a radial head fracture can occur in someone of any age, and as with other types of fracture, the earlier the patient gets treatment, the better the outcome will be. For this reason, people who suspect that they may have an elbow fracture should definitely seek attention from a doctor who can examine the joint for signs of a fracture and provide the appropriate treatment.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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    • The radius is a bone in the forearm that makes up part of the elbow.
      By: unpict
      The radius is a bone in the forearm that makes up part of the elbow.
    • Some types of radial head fractures are treated with a cast or splint and sling.
      By: leschnyhan
      Some types of radial head fractures are treated with a cast or splint and sling.