The forearm consists of two long bones known as the radius and ulna. The radius bone lies on the thumb side of the forearm and forms joints with the upper arm bone (humerus) at the elbow. The radial head or head of the radius is a bony prominence at the top of the radius that forms a joint with the humerus and ulna. The ulna bone is situated just beneath the elbow joint, which lies under the radius bone.
About 20% of the acute elbow injuries that occur are radial head fractures, and are seen more frequently in women that men between the ages of 30 and 40 years old. Radial head fractures are most often caused by a fall on an outstretched hand.
Radial head fracture can happen during certain activities, such as a fall onto the outstretched hand or outer elbow. Due to this, stress is placed on the radius bone and the radial head. When this stress is traumatic and beyond what the bone can withstand, a break in the radial head may occur. This condition is referred to as radial head fracture.
Athletes most commonly experience radial head fractures, however, this condition could occur in patients of all ages and fitness levels. Often a radial head fracture occurs in combination with other injuries, such as a sprain or dislocation of the wrist, elbow or shoulder.
Causes of a Radial Head Fracture:
A radial head fracture could occur to anybody who experiences a fall onto an outstretched hand or outer elbow. In other words, it can happen due to a traumatic weight bearing force on the radial bone. This may occur due to any fall, but it’s particularly common in sports such as skateboarding or snowboarding (particularly in icy conditions where a fall onto a hard surface in extremely dangerous). A fractured radial head may also occur due to a collision to the outer elbow with a fast moving or stationary object.
Signs and Symptoms of a Radial Head Fracture:
At the time of injury, patients typically experience a sudden onset of sharp, intense elbow or forearm pain. Usually, pain is felt on the front, back or out part of the elbow and forearm. Pain can occasionally settle quickly leaving patients with an ache at the site of injury that is particularly prominent at night or first thing in the morning. Patients may experience swelling, bruising and pain on firmly touching the affected region of bone. Pain may also increase during certain movements of the elbow or wrist, when rotating the forearm, lifting or carrying or while performing weight bearing activities such as pushing, through the affected arm. Pins and needles or numbness could also be experienced, and in severe cases, an obvious deformity may be detected.
Nonsurgical Treatment for Radial Head Fracture:
Surgery is often the treatment of choice for many elbow fractures. However, some elbow fractures do not require surgery and can be treated through a back slab cast. Fractures of the radial head or radial neck that are minimally displaced can be treated without surgery. The backslab cast protects and immobilizes the joint until healing reaches a stage where it is safe to begin elbow movement. If it is necessary or desirable to prevent rotation of the wrist, the cast should also cover the wrist joint.
There are various exercises that speedens up the rehabilitation process. An expert physiotherapist can advise when it’s appropriate to begin the initial exercises and eventually progress to the intermediate and advanced exercises. As a general rule, addition of exercises or progression to more advanced exercises should take place provided there is no increase in symptoms. Contact our team of expert physiotherapists in Edmonton to book your appoint today!