Radial head fracture

This page is for adult patients. For pediatric patients, see: radial head fracture (peds).


Left elbow-joint with anterior and ulnar collateral ligaments
  • Most common fractures of the elbow, approximately 20% of elbow fractures
  • Caused by FOOSH in pronation leading to radial head being driven into the capitellum

Associated injuries (are common)

Clinical Features

  • Pain in the lateral elbow, especially with pronation/supination of forearm
  • Swelling laterally and tenderness of radial head

Differential Diagnosis

Elbow Diagnoses





Radial head fracture seen on 3D CT reconstruction.


  • Elbow PA & lateral
  • Consider x-rays of humerus, forearm, and wrist (e.g. to rule out a Essex-Lopresti fracture)
  • Consider Greenspan (radial head-capitellum) view X-Ray
    • Lateral elbow is shot at 45 degrees to pick up subtle fractures


Radial head fracture (red arrow) with posterior and anterior sail signs (blue arrows)
Anterior and posterior fat pad signs (in a case of an undisplaced fracture of the radius head, which is not visible directly).
  • Ensure there is no tenderness over the rest of the forearm/wrist, to rule out an Essex-Lopresti fracture
  • Typically diagnosed on elbow X-ray (fractures are often subtle)
    • Look for abnormal fat pad
    • Look for radiocapitellar line disruption


General Fracture Management


  • Sling immobilization in flexion
  • Nondisplaced fracture with no mobility restrictions: ortho follow up within 1wk
  • Displaced fracture or mobility restrictions: ortho follow up within 24hr


  • Normally outpatient

See Also