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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Treating a broken radial head

Ka pēhea te pito kapiti e whakarauora?

Most radial head fractures are treated by putting your arm in a sling to rest it while it heals. But sometimes a complex break may need surgery.

The way your broken radial head will be treated depends on many different factors, including:

Less complex breaks that are stable (meaning the bones do not move around) usually do not need surgery. Instead, you'll need to wear a broad arm sling to stop you using the arm while it heals.

If the break is unstable, the bone has shattered into many pieces, the break includes the joint surface or it doesn't heal as expected, you may need surgery to put the pieces back into the right place and hold them there until you heal.

Surgery for a broken radial head

If you need surgery for your broken radial head, an orthopaedic (bone) surgeon will do it.

Exactly what surgery you have will depend on what type of break you have. Your surgeon will talk to you about exactly what it involves, the risks, benefits and how you're likely to recover.

Your surgery may involve some metal (a plate, screws or possibly wires) to line up your bones properly and support them while they heal. Occasionally, the bone is so shattered that the entire radial head has to be removed. If this happens to you, you may need an artificial radial head inserted to ensure you can move your arm properly.

You'll probably spend one to two nights in hospital and your arm will be in a splint for up to six weeks.

You'll need some weeks off work after surgery. How long will depend on your injury and the type of work you do.

Getting help for a broken radial head

If you still have a lot of pain even when taking paracetamol regularly, you should see your general practice team to discuss other types of pain relief.

ACC may be able to provide help while you aren't fit for work, such as home help or taxis to appointment as well as work compensation payments.

You may want to see a physiotherapist when your doctor says you can start to exercise your arm (usually a week or two after your injury).

These are some exercises they might suggest. Aim to do each exercise 10 times three to four times a day.

Photo of a fist clenched

Photo of a person's hand, palm up then palm down

  • To reduce the swelling, clench your hand and release your fist.
  • Turn your palm up then down, keeping your elbow still.

 

Photo of a person with their arm by their side then using their good hand to bend their elbow and lift their forearm up to their shoulder

Photo of a person sitting with their arm outstretched, raising and lowering their arm

  • Bend and straighten your elbow.
  • Raise your arm above your head.

 

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed July 2022. Last updated October 2023.

Sources

See also:

Living with an injury

Page reference: 373159

Review key: HISHI-13267