The radius is the smaller bone in the forearm that runs from the thumb side of the wrist to the elbow. The end of the bone near the elbow is called the radial head and is a common site of fracture when arms are used to break a fall.
Pain on the outside of the elbow, swelling in the elbow joint and difficulty bending or straightening the arm or turning the palm face up or face down.
There are three types of fractures of the radial head:
- Small crack like fracture with the bone pieces still fitted together. Treatment is non-surgical and usually involves use of a splint or sling to support the bone while it heals. Movement exercises are introduced slowly as to not move the bone out of alignment.
- These fractures involve pieces of bone which are slightly displaced. Treatment may require a splint or sling if the displacement is only minor. Otherwise surgery could be recommended if there are small fragments of bone that need to be removed or larger fragments that require plates and/or screws to hold them together. Any ligament damage may also require surgical repair.
- These fractures have multiple broken pieces of bone which cannot be put back together for healing, there is also significant damage to the elbow joint and surrounding ligaments. Surgery is required to either fix or remove the broken pieces and repair the damage to the soft tissues. In some cases the radial head may need to be removed and in some cases replaced with an artificial one.
Recovery times will vary dependent upon the extent of damage to the radial head. In all cases splints and slings may be used followed by physical therapy to restore movement and strength.