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Rehabilitating a Fractured Radial Head

PTD0415_ElbowThe 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.

Tom Willemann

Tom Willemann

Tom Willemann is a premier physical therapist based out of Bergen County, New Jersey. He holds an MS in physical therapy from the University of Miami, is credentialed in the world-renowned McKenzie Method of Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy (MDT), and holds an OCS (Orthopedic Clinical Specialist) certification. As of 2018, there are approximately 14,000 ABPTS certified specialists in the nation and less than 400 of them are located in the state of New Jersey. Tom is the owner and director of Apex Orthopedic Rehabilitation in Paramus. He opened the clinic, which specializes in spine and sports injury prevention, in 2004 after many years of experience in the field. Tom’s caring interest in others and his strong belief in continuity of care, combined with his clinic’s ability to find solutions for the most difficult orthopedic problems, have earned Apex Orthopedic Rehabilitation its excellent reputation with patients and medical professionals in northeastern New Jersey and beyond. A true “family man,” Tom takes pride in his clinic’s warm and welcoming environment.
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