The elbow is a complex joint formed by a trio of bones in your arm: the radius and the ulna in your forearm and the humerus in your upper arm. The part of the radius bone nearest to the elbow, called the radial head, can fracture after an injury from a tumble, during which you instinctively reach out with your arm to break the fall.
After evaluating the break with an x-ray and, if necessary, a computed tomography (CT) scan and a magnetic resonance image (MRI), your physician will recommend one of three courses of action:
• No surgery. This is the most commonly recommended option, because radial head fractures are often “clean” and don’t affect elbow alignment very much. If there is no dislocation and little damage to the surrounding soft tissue, treatment usually involves two to three weeks in a splint or sling, followed by several months of range-of-motion and strengthening exercises. Often, an elbow brace is utilized.
• Open reduction and internal fixation surgery. Here, the break is severe enough that the now-misaligned pieces cause range-of-motion difficulties that will only worsen. This restorative surgery involves using small screws or pins to restore the radial head.
• Radial head replacement. If the radial head is so severely damaged that repair is not possible, the surgeon will remove the damaged radial head and may replace it with a metal implant. In either surgical approach, the surgeon will repair surrounding ligaments as necessary.
After radial head surgery, you must rest for several days, keeping your elbow in a splint and your arm elevated to heart level. We can recommend range-of-motion exercises for your shoulder and finger to be performed during these days. Then you will move on to a rehabilitation period for the elbow itself, which can last for months. Range-of-motion exercises come first; strengthening work occurs much later, usually beginning about six weeks after surgery.
Whether you need radial head surgery or not, we can design a customized rehabilitation program for you. Resuming your sports activities or daily functions free of stiffness and pain will enable you to return to normal life.
Apex Orthopedic Rehabilitation in Paramus, NJ provides orthopedic and sports physical therapy services for the greater Ridgewood, Paramus, and Bergen County region. This blog is intended for informational purposes only and should not be used for diagnostic or prescriptive purposes. The views expressed here are the author’s views and should be taken as suggestions. Always consult your doctor or healthcare practitioner before engaging in a physical therapy or rehabilitative program.