Your first instinct when falling is to break the fall with your outstretched hand. However, the force of the fall could break your wrist, dislocate your elbow, or fracture the end of the radius (the smaller bone in your forearm) closest to your elbow. This part of the radius is known as the radial head. Radial head fractures often occur as a result of a dislocated elbow. As the upper arm bone slides back into place after a dislocation, it can inadvertently chip off a piece of the radial head.
Symptoms of an elbow fracture include pain and swelling at the elbow joint, difficulty bending or straightening the elbow, or the inability to turn the forearm. If you experience a fall and have any of these symptoms, you need to call an orthopedist.
The orthopedic doctors at the Center for Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine in San Antonio are experts at diagnosing and treating radial head fractures. Learn more about the injury below.
Types of Radial Head Fractures
Radial head fractures are classified by their degree of displacement. Type I fractures are usually small cracks and the bone remains intact. As such, the fracture may not be visible on an X-ray at first, but more apparent on subsequent X-rays taken a few weeks after the injury. This type of injury calls for nonsurgical treatment, such as using a splint or sling for a few days, followed by a gentle and gradual increase in motion.
Type II fractures are slightly displaced and affect a larger portion of the bone. Minimal displacement may involve using a splint for a week or two, followed by a range of motion exercises. If the bone is fragmented into one or more small pieces, the doctor can surgically remove them.
If the fracture involves larger pieces of bone, the surgeon can put them back together with pins or screws, or he may opt to remove the broken pieces of the radial head. This is usually the best course of action for older, less active individuals.
Type III fractures are those in which more than three pieces of bone are broken and cannot be fitted back together. Such an injury usually involves significant damage to the joint and ligaments, as well. Not only must the surgeon remove bone fragments and the radial head, but also repair the soft tissue damage.
If the damage is severe, the surgeon may remove the radial head and replace it with an artificial one to improve function and mobility. After surgery, you will need physical therapy to avoid stiffness in the joint.
Even the smallest radial head fracture will result in some loss of elbow extension. Consequently, you will need physical therapy to help restore your range of motion and return to your normal activities.
Elbow Fracture Treatments San Antonio, TX
If you are experiencing elbow pain and think you may have suffered a radial head fracture, the physicians at the Center for Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine can promptly diagnose and treat your injury, relieve your pain, and restore your range of motion. To schedule an appointment, call us at (210) 692-7400 or use our online form.