dislocation of the radial head (traumatic)

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It is very rare for there to be an isolated dislocation of the radial head. A concurrent fracture of the ulna should be suspected (Monteggia fracture dislocation). Also one should suspect shortening of the ulna due to bone dysplasia.

In a child, there may be a history of the patient being pulled abruptly by the hand or swung by its parents. For this reason, the condition may be described as "pulled elbow."

In a child, an isolated dislocation of the radial head may be reduced by supination and direct pressure over the radial head. The arm must be held in a supine position in plaster for 6 weeks.

In an adult, surgical reconstruction of the ligaments and wire fixation are usually required. Any cause for the dislocation, such as a fracture of the ulna, should be corrected.

Reduction is impossible if there is concomitant shortening of the ulna and the abnormality must be accepted.

Last reviewed 01/2018