Your experiences with fractured elbow repair?
September 4, 2010 4:31 PM   Subscribe

Two months ago I fell and fractured my right radial head. It's not healing, and surgery is now a possibility. Care to help me weigh my options?

The radial head is the bone that helps you extend and rotate your forearm. It's at the top of the forearm, next to the humerus. Mine is busted. It has not healed and is still symptomatic -- i.e., painful, unable to lift anything heavier than a coffee cup, hard to grasp and pinch things. My orthopedist referred me to a colleague for a second opinion. That appointment is later this month. I would like to be armed (sorry, that was terrible) with a little more information before I go in.

Assuming that surgery ultimately proves to be the answer, AFAIK there are three options. 1. Plate and screws. 2. Remove the fractured bone and replace it with a prosthetic (just like a knee or hip replacement). 3. Take out the fractured bone and don't replace it with anything. Here are my actual questions:

Have you (or has someone you love) had any of these procedures? Which one, and were you/they happy with the results? Any pros and cons you can share? Did you forego surgery in favor of something else? YANMD and I am not asking you what I should do. I am asking what YOU did and how it worked for YOU.

I am a woman in my early forties and right-handed. Typing and writing are comfortable, but almost nothing else is. My first choice would be no surgery at all, thank you very much, but the continued pain and lack of healing make me think that this might be the way to go. I just want to be a little bit better informed before I commit.
posted by That's Numberwang! to Health & Fitness (3 answers total)
I am a left-handed woman in my early forties. I broke my left radial head in a bike accident in the summer of 2009. Your symptoms sound like mine in the first two weeks after the accident. But after a month I was feeling much better, so your experience does sound a bit anomalous. (I did do some exercises prescribed by my physical therapist sister, but I don't think they were the tipping point in terms of my recovery.) So the point of this post is to affirm that yes, it sounds like you are not healing. However, I would suggest exploring the physical therapy options before opting for surgery. My arm is still twing-y but the combination of pilates and the sister-prescribed exercises has really worked wonders. Maybe try physical therapy before going under the knife.
posted by Morpeth at 4:53 PM on September 4, 2010

Best answer: My husband, who is right-handed and in his early thirties, shattered his right radial head in a fall on an icy sidewalk at the beginning of 2007. Surgery was not optional. The doctor said that once they had him opened up, if the pieces could be put back together, they would try to do that, since he preferred not to have the replacement if that were possible; but they could not, so they gave him the prosthetic, which is chrome and stainless steel. Then he had physical therapy for three months after.

He had normal use of it again immediately. The doctor told him that recovering about 80% of your range of motion is the norm, but YMMV. My husband says if you get the replacement, you should do the physical therapy diligently and also exercise it yourself as much as you can, which you can begin doing right after the surgery. He is double-jointed and regained his full range of motion.

He says anything requiring too much grip strength is still an issue - he does tend to favor his left arm/hand for opening cans and jars, for instance - and anything requiring too much weight-bearing, like push-ups, he can't do as much of as he used to be able to. In bad weather it will ache, and occasionally it "pinches from the inside" (he says it's like the tissue gets caught in the joint for a second?). Otherwise it does not cause him pain or trouble - it just makes him feel a little older than he actually is!

Overall he is very happy with how it turned out and he says given his circumstances, it's the best possible outcome he could have achieved. We both hope whatever you end up doing turns out well for you, too.
posted by flex at 6:15 PM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

My aunt broke her left radius and ulna in a bike accident. She shattered both bones and the proximal end of her radius was effected. She ended up having surgery with plates and screws inserted to stabilize the mess. Her recovery went very well but she is still unable to supinate (meaning she cannot rotate her left arm clockwise from a palm down to a palm up position). I'm not sure if this would apply to you given that it sounds like my aunt's injuries were more extensive, but it would be good to discuss your future range of motion with the three options.
posted by Mouse Army at 6:18 PM on September 4, 2010

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