It’s natural for us to pull out our hands when we’re breaking a fall, but the force exerted on our arms as we make contact with the ground can travel all the way up and dislocate our elbow.

Our arm, wrist, and hand consist of multiple bones that are closely connected. Once force is exerted, it can easily be transferred up the arm and dislocate weaker bones.

Breaking a fall with your arm can lead to the fracturing of a small bone called the radius, located in your forearm. Fractures of the radius usually occur close to the elbow, in the area referred to as the radial head.

What are radial head fractures?

Radial head fractures are pretty common; they happen in around 20% of all acute elbow injuries. Women tend to experience radial head fractures at a much higher rate than men; people between ages 30 and 40 and are more likely to have a radial head fracture than other age groups.

So how do you know if you’ve got a radial head fracture?


Various signs that indicate whether or not you have a radial head fracture; these include:

  • Swelling in the inside of the elbow joint
  • Pain in the outside area of the elbow
  • Pain when straightening/bending the elbow
  • Pain when moving the palm up and down, and in turning the forearm


The treatment plan for a radial head fracture depends on how bad the dislocation is; the further the bones are from their natural positions, the longer and more intense the treatment needs to be.

bandaging elbow area of woman

Type I Fractures

Fractures in this category are minor. In these kinds of fractures, there are cracks in the bones, but all the pieces still fit together, therefore the treatment isn’t extensive.

These kinds of fractures aren’t always visible right away in X-rays; it can take about 3 weeks following the injury for it to be seen in an x-ray.

Fixing Type I fractures involves using either a sling or a splint and exercising the wrist and elbow.

Type II Fractures

These involve at least one large bone and a slight displacement too. A splint or sling may be used to treat minor displacement over a span of 2 weeks, along with exercises to improve the range of motion.

In more serious fractures, a broken bone may have to be removed surgically to prevent movement troubles in the future.

If the displacement is severe, then an orthopedic surgeon may use a combination of plates and screws to hold the bones in place. Any broken pieces of the radial head will have to be removed during surgery.

Type III Fractures

In these fractures, multiple bones are affected, and they can’t be put together. These kinds of fractures are treated with surgery to remove and fix broken pieced of bones.

In the worst cases of Type III fractures, the radial head will have to be removed and replaced with an artificial one. The doctor will provide a list of exercises that involve the stretching and bending of elbows to prevent stiffness.


Able Hands Rehabilitation is a clinic run by certified hand therapists (CHTs), occupational therapists and surgeons that treat all kinds of hand-related injuries. We have clinics in Freehold, Old Bridge, and Edison, NJ. We provide hand therapy, custom static splints, occupational therapy, as well as surgeries.

If you live in New Jersey and are looking for hand injury specialists, book an appointment at our office by calling 732-727-7333.