Radial Head Fracture: Treatment & After-Care

April 15, 2024
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When you fall, it’s natural to try to catch yourself with your hands. But sometimes, the force of the fall can travel up your arm and cause problems in your elbow. It might even dislocate your elbow or break a bone called the radius in your forearm.

How Common Are Radial Head Fractures?

Fractures in the radial head are highly common, accounting for about 20% of all elbow injuries from falls. When someone’s elbow feels out of place, it signifies a radial head injury. Such fractures happen more often in women than in men, and they are more common in people between 30 and 40 years old.

Treatment Approach

Doctors categorize fractures based on how much the broken bones are out of place and how many pieces they’re in. According to this classification, the treatment depends on the kind of fracture. For example:

Type I Fractures:

Type I fractures are small cracks in the bone, but the pieces stay in place.

  • If the crack doesn’t appear on the first X-ray, it usually appears on a follow-up X-ray about 3 weeks later.
  • Treatment without surgery involves wearing a splint or sling for a few days, then gradually moving the elbow and wrist as long as it doesn’t hurt too much.
  • Trying to move too much too soon could make the bones move out of place.

Type II Fractures:

Type II fractures involve a bigger piece of bone slightly out of place.

  • If the piece of bone is slightly out of place, treatment might involve wearing a sling or splint for 1 to 2 weeks, followed by exercises to improve movement.
  • If small pieces of bone are causing problems, surgery may be needed to remove them.
  • If a big piece is out of place, the doctor may try to fix it with screws or a plate. If that’s not possible, they will remove the broken bone fragments.
  • The doctor will also fix any other damaged tissue, like torn ligaments.

Type III Fractures:

Type III fractures involve many broken pieces of bone that cannot be put back together. These fractures usually also damage the elbow joint and the ligaments around it.

  • Surgery is always needed to fix or remove the broken bone pieces and repair the damaged tissue. Sometimes, the whole radial head needs to be taken out, and a fake one might be put in.
  • Even with the simplest fractures, your elbow might not move as well as before. But with exercises, you can work on getting it stronger and moving better. Sometimes, if your elbow is still stiff after a while, you might need another surgery to remove scar tissue.

After-Care Considerations

To help with the pain and swelling:

  • Put a cold pack on the hurt area. But wrap it in a cloth first so it doesn’t hurt your skin.
  • Raise your elbow to reduce the swelling.
  • For pain, you can use medicines like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), or acetaminophen (Tylenol). You can get these at the store without a doctor’s note.

But talk to your doctor before using these medicines if you have heart problems, high blood pressure, kidney issues, or if you have had stomach problems or bleeding before. Don’t take more than what it says on the bottle.

Follow your doctor’s advice about using your sling or splint. They will tell you when you can:

  • Start moving your shoulder, wrist, and fingers while wearing the sling or splint.
  • Take off the splint to take a shower or bath.
  • Make sure to keep your sling or splint dry.

How Long Does a Fractured Radial Head Take to Heal?

It can take about 6 weeks for a broken radial head or neck to heal completely. During this time, avoid putting too much pressure on the joint by lifting heavy things or putting weight on it. And don’t return to sports where you might get hit or bumped until at least 6 weeks after you hurt yourself.

Wrapping Up

A radial head fracture is a common injury. It can happen anytime, anywhere. Treatment and aftercare knowledge are the keys to dealing with it. To seek more reliable assistance, visit Dr. Gombera at Mufaddal Gombera, MD.

Our fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon specializes in sports medicine, arthroscopy, and treating shoulder, hip, and knee injuries. Call us at (713) 794-3457.

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Dr. Gombera

Dr. Gombera, earned his medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine and completed his orthopedic surgery residency at the University of Michigan. Expanding his expertise, he undertook a sports medicine and arthroscopy fellowship at Northwestern University in Chicago. Recognized as a Super Doctors Rising Star and honored for patient care excellence at the University of Michigan, he holds multiple certifications and licenses, solidifying his dedication to delivering exceptional medical services.

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