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Radial Head / Neck Fracture

What is a radial head or neck fracture?

The radius is one of two bones in the forearm that extend from the wrist to the elbow.  A fracture of the radial head or neck is a break at the elbow end of the radius.

radial head  fracture

Radial head or radial neck fractures are the most common elbow fracture in adults.  They are usually sustained from a fall onto an outstretched hand.  The impact of the radial head into the articulating surface of the humerus breaks the bone.

Radial Head Fracture

How is a radial head or neck fracture treated?

Treatment of a radial head or neck fracture will depend on the severity of the fracture.  An xray is always required to determine the exact nature of the fracture.

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Radial Neck Fracture

Displaced fractures where the bone fragments have moved out of place, or comminuted fractures where the bone has broken into many small fragments usually require surgery to fix them into alignment.

Non-displaced fractures (where the bone fragments are still in good alignment)  can be managed without surgery as outlined below.

How is a non-displaced radial head or radial neck fracture treated?

It is not necessary to protect a simple (non-displaced) radial head or neck fracture in a splint or cast; in fact doing so is likely to lead to a very stiff elbow, however a sling may be worn for comfort for the first 1-2 weeks.  Remove the sling for short periods as your pain settles, and aim to stop using it completely as soon as you feel able. Gradually resume light daily activities as pain allows.

Swelling management

If you have significant swelling around your elbow your therapist will provide you with a compression sleeve to help reduce the swelling.  Your therapist may also perform gentle massage to shift swelling away from the elbow.


Elbow joint stiffness is the most common complication following radial head fractures.  In particular, full straightening (extension) of the elbow can be difficult to restore.  For this reason, gentle active elbow exercises are started as soon as pain permits to minimise stiffness and facilitate healing.  Once your fracture is healed, your hand therapist will provide you with exercises to strengthen your affected arm.

Pain relieving modalities

Our hand therapists provide a number of pain relieving treatments including moist heat treatment, massage and InterX neurostimulation.

How long does a radial head or radial neck fracture take to heal?

It can take 3-6 weeks for symptoms to settle completely.   Actual healing times may vary, but on average, total healing can take 6-12 weeks.

When can I return to sport following a radial head / radial neck fracture?

To ensure that your fracture is fully healed before returning to sport, it is advisable to delay returning to sport until 12 weeks after the injury.

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