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Broken radial head

Pito kapiti tāwhatiwhati

Broken radial head The radial head is the top of your radius, one of the two bones in your forearm. A broken radial head (radial head fracture) means you've broken this bone just below your elbow.

A broken radial head usually happens from falling onto an outstretched hand. Serious accidents, such as car accidents, motorcycle accidents or falls from a ladder cause more serious breaks.

Your radial head can break in many different ways and some breaks are worse than others.

Symptoms of a broken radial head

If you've broken your radial head, your elbow will be painful and swollen. It may be hard to bend your arm or get it fully straight and to turn your hand palm up or palm down. Your fingers may tingle or your fingertips may be numb, which might mean your elbow is also dislocated and is stretching the nerve. Make sure you remove any rings from your fingers before they start to swell.

If you think you may have broken a bone in your elbow, it's important to seek treatment straight away, especially if you have any tingling or numbness as delays can lead to permanent nerve damage.

Diagnosing a broken radial head

Your doctor will ask about how your injury happened, look at your elbow and arm and take X-rays to find out which bone is broken and what kind of break it is. You may also need a CT scan, which can show a complex break more clearly or an MRI to show any soft tissue injury.

Self-care for a broken radial head

There are some things you can do to help your recovery.

On the next page: Treating a broken radial head

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed July 2022.

Sources

See also:

Broken bones first aid

Broken elbow

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Review key: HISHI-13267