The radius bone goes from your elbow to your wrist. The radial head is the top of the radial bone, just below your elbow. A fracture is a break in your bone.
The most common cause of a radial head fracture is breaking a fall with an outstretched arm.
What to Expect
You may have pain and swelling for 1 - 2 weeks.
If you have a small fracture and your bones did not move around much, you will likely wear a splint or sling that supports your arm, elbow, and forearm. You will probably need to wear this for at least 2 - 3 weeks.
If your break is more severe, you may need to see a bone doctor (orthopedic surgeon). Some fractures require surgery to:
Insert pins and plates to hold your bones in place
Repair ligaments that were torn (ligaments are tissues that connect bones)
Depending on how severe your fracture is and on other factors, you may not have full range of motion after you recover. Most fractures heal well in 6 - 8 weeks.
Self-care at Home
To help with pain and swelling, apply an ice pack to the injured area. Keeping your arm at the level of your heart can also reduce swelling.
For pain, you can use ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), or acetaminophen (Tylenol). You can buy these pain medicines without a prescription.
Talk with your health care provider before using these medicines if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or have had stomach ulcers or internal bleeding in the past.
Do not take more than the amount recommended on the bottle.
Do NOT give aspirin to children.
Follow the instructions about your sling or splint that your health care provider gave you. Your health care provider will tell you when you can:
Start moving your shoulder, wrist, and fingers while wearing your sling or splint
Remove the splint to take a shower or bath
Keep your sling or splint dry.
You will also be told when you can remove your sling or splint and begin moving and using your elbow.
Using your elbow as early as you were told to may improve your range of motion after you recover.
Your doctor will tell you how much pain is normal as you begin using your elbow.
You may need physical therapy if you have a severe fracture.
Your doctor or physical therapist will tell you when you can start playing sports or using your elbow for other activities.
You will likely have a follow-up exam 1 - 3 weeks after your injury.
When to Call the Doctor
Call your health care provider if:
Your elbow feels tight and painful
You feel tingling or numbness
Your skin is red, swollen, or you have an open sore
You have problems bending your elbow or lifting things after your sling or splint is removed
Radial head fracture In: Buttaravoli P, ed. Minor Emergencies. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007:chap 128.
C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.