Radial Fractures

What is it: Trying to break a fall by putting your hand out in front of you seems almost instinctive. But the force of the fall could travel up the lower forearm bones and dislocate the elbow. It also could break the smaller bone (radius) in the forearm. A break can occur near the elbow at the radial “head.”

Statistics: Fractures of the distal radius account for one-sixth of all fractures seen in the emergency department.

Approximately 10 percent of all elbow dislocations involve a fracture of the radial head.

Important Facts: Even the simplest of fractures will probably result in some loss of extension in the elbow. Regardless of the type of fracture or the treatment used, physical therapy will be needed before resuming full activities.

Common Myths: Myth: Buckle fractures of the distal radius must be treated with a cast for several weeks. One randomized trial of 39 children (most aged 5-10 years) in the United Kingdom found that buckle fractures of the distal radius are safely treated in a soft bandage (J. Pediatr. Orthop. 2005;25:322-5).

Myth: All distal radius fractures are Colles’ fractures, and they all do well. In fact, the literature today usually refers to distal radius fractures as Colles’ fractures. Colles described the necessity of reducing and holding fracture reduction. If the splint is too loose, the deformity persists.