Fractured radial head

The radius is one of the bones of the forearm. The ‘head’ is the end at the elbow. This is small, and this end rotates against the elbow joint when the wrist is rotated. If the radial head is fractured and remained undisplaced it usually heals without any problems provided care is taken to avoid any additional trauma to it while it heals. As it naturally rotates, it is important to keep it moving to avoid scar tissue developing that stiffens the joint.

If the radial head is displaced, it may need surgical repair. In some cases the blood supply to the radial head may be disrupted and may fail to heal.

Rehabilitation and return to work

It is important to keep the arm moving and there is no need to splint the arm while it heals. The elbow is likely to be painful and swollen initially, and this can be managed with ice wrapped in a damp towel for around fifteen minutes three or four times a day, and for the first few days it may help to keep the elbow raised on a pillow when resting to minimise swelling. Patients may use a sling for the first week or so.

Patients can return to work as soon as practicably possible. The pain and swelling may make it difficult for the first couple of weeks, but they won’t be harmed by light administrative activity including using a keyboard and mouse. The bone will heal to reasonable strength within six weeks after which patients should be able to undertake all light manual activities without risk (lifting and carrying less than around 5-10kg).

It is sensible to wait until the bone has reached maximum strength before resuming very heavy manual activities such as digging, control and restraint at work and high impact contact sports such as rugby or martial arts.

These timelines are usually the same for surgical fixation, however if there are indications that the bone is not healing normally, then return to normal physical activity will be delayed.