Fractures of the radial head

A. D. Duckworth, M. M. McQueen, D. Ring


Most fractures of the radial head are stable undisplaced or minimally displaced partial fractures without an associated fracture of the elbow or forearm or ligament injury, where stiffness following non-operative management is the primary concern. Displaced unstable fractures of the radial head are usually associated with other fractures or ligament injuries, and restoration of radiocapitellar contact by reconstruction or prosthetic replacement of the fractured head is necessary to prevent subluxation or dislocation of the elbow and forearm. In fractures with three or fewer fragments (two articular fragments and the neck) and little or no metaphyseal comminution, open reduction and internal fixation may give good results. However, fragmented unstable fractures of the radial head are prone to early failure of fixation and nonunion when fixed. Excision of the radial head is associated with good long-term results, but in patients with instability of the elbow or forearm, prosthetic replacement is preferred.

This review considers the characteristics of stable and unstable fractures of the radial head, as well as discussing the debatable aspects of management, in light of the current best evidence.

Cite this article: Bone Joint J 2013;95-B:151–9.


  • No benefits in any form have been received or will be received from a commercial party related directly or indirectly to the subject of this article.

  • Received April 19, 2012.
  • Accepted October 16, 2012.
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