Accounting for nearly 30 percent of elbow injuries, radial head fractures are among the most common broken elbow bones diagnosed in adults. It generally results when a fall onto an outstretched hand sends force traveling up the lower forearm bone to the elbow. Sometimes such a force will also break the smaller radius bone.

A fracture of the radial head prompts pain on the outside of the elbow and swelling in the elbow joint. Patients also experience difficulty in bending or straightening the elbow, as well as an inability to turn the forearm palm up to palm down.

Shaped like a round disc, the radial head moves in both flexion and extension within the elbow joint and is an important part of the elbow motion individuals are able to attain. So, injury to the radial head impacts all elbow movement.

These types of fractures are classified according to the degree of displacement, or malalignment. Type I fractures are usually small fissures with bone pieces remaining together. Type II fractures reveal slight displacement and involve a larger piece of bone. And Type III fractures reveal more than three broken pieces of bone that cannot be properly placed back together.

Depending on the type of fracture, treatment may be conservative and involve the use of a splint or sling followed by range of motion exercises, or surgical to provide internal fixation, remove broken bits of bone and repair any soft tissue damage.