Radial Head Fracture Surgical Overview
Approximately one third of elbow fractures involve the head of the radius bone in the forearm. These injuries happen more frequently with women and often occur at the same time as an elbow dislocation.
Any impact that twists, sprains, and delivers substantial force to the elbow can cause a radial head fracture. Radial head fractures are usually caused by sudden trauma, such as extending an arm to break a fall. The effects are immediately apparent: severe pain, bruising, swelling, stiffness, difficulty bending or extending the arm or rotating the wrist, and often an observable physical deformity.
Sometimes the bone fractures but does not break. It remains in proper alignment, but its integrity has been compromised. Conservative treatments that rely on use of a sling to immobilize the arm may result in restricted dexterity and range of motion.
Serious radial head fractures require immediate attention. Without timely care, there is a chance a patient can suffer nerve damage, long-term stiffness, permanent deformity, and the development of chronic arthritis. It is likely that some range of motion will be lost after a radial head fracture, but a course of physical therapy—whether surgery is performed or not—can help a patient reclaim maximum flexibility and functionality. Experienced Chicago orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Anthony Romeo will come up with a treatment plan based on X-rays and perhaps ultrasound or MRI results. Surgery will be recommended in many cases, as it is the best option to prevent long-term loss of function in the elbow. Dr. Romeo can recommend whether an open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) procedure, a fragment excision, or a radial head replacement would be best.
Radial Head Fracture Surgical Options
During an Open Reduction Internal Fixation procedure, the surgeon cuts through the skin and muscle to access the bone, mend it, and return it to proper alignment. This is performed with general anesthesia and may take several hours. The internal fixation part of the term refers to the way your surgeon reconnects the bone, sometimes using plates and screws.
Depending on how seriously the radial head fractured, Dr. Romeo may need to remove bone fragments from the arm, or even the radial head itself. Patients who don’t have a very active lifestyle may not be significantly inconvenienced by the absence of the bone. Younger and more physically active patients may prefer replacing the fractured radial head with a surgically-placed prosthesis. As with many elbow injuries, there may be collateral damage to the ligaments, tendons or muscles so Dr. Romeo will repair any soft-tissue tears during the procedure.
After surgery, you will need to follow a program of physical therapy, supplemented by home exercises, to rebuild strength and flexibility in the muscles and ligaments and ensure maximum range of motion. Dr. Romeo will provide specific instructions to manage any post-op pain.
For more information about causes and treatment of radial head fractures, please request an appointment with experienced Chicago orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Anthony Romeo. Call or email our office today to schedule your visit.
Anthony Romeo, MD
Dr. Anthony Romeo is one of the nation’s leading orthopaedic surgeons specializing in the management and surgical treatment of shoulder and elbow conditions. His state-of-the-art practice employs minimally-invasive arthroscopic techniques to accelerate the recovery process for a range of challenging conditions.