Radial head fractures

Estimated Duration: 
1 hour

Fractures of the radial head are common, they are seen in 20% of all acute elbow injuries and make up one-third of all elbow fractures. These fractures typically occur after a fall when an axial load is applied to the forearm, causing the radial head to hit the capitulum of the humerus (fall onto the outstretched hand). Radial head fractures are more common in females and occur most frequently between 30-40 years of age. Patients typically present with relatively localised pain and swelling around the lateral elbow.

There is a range of presentations from minimally displaced fractures requiring minimal management, to fractures with major displacement or fragmentation which require surgical fixation, excision or replacement. The radial head is an important stabiliser of the elbow and the goals of treatment of radial head fractures are focussed on restoring function and stability of the elbow. 

Learning objectives:

  • Understand the functional anatomy of the radial head.
  • Have an awareness of the typical mechanism of injury.
  • Be able to interpret X-ray studies of the elbow.
  • Understand the grading system used to define radial head fracture.
  • Be able to manage uncomplicated radial head fractures.
  • Know when to refer patients with radial head fractures for an orthopaedic opinion.


Once you have completed this short course and quiz, please click 'submit' where you will be taken to the results page. From here you can print your certificate for 1 Continuing Professional Development (CPD) hour.


This content was created by Dr Kevin Bell, MBChB, PGDSM.  It has been updated by Dr Helen Joyce Fulcher MBChB, DipPaed, PGCertHSc(Sports Med), in September 2016.

The material is presented by the Goodfellow Unit (GFU), an accredited continuing medical education/ continuing professional development (CME/CPD) provider for the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners and functions under a tripartite agreement between the Goodfellow Foundation, the College and the University of Auckland. The Unit is located within the Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, and within the School of Population Health.


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