Radial head or neck fracture – Advice regarding healing and recovery

Patient Experience

  • Reference Number: HEY-1294/2022
  • Departments: Orthopaedics, Physiotherapy
  • Last Updated: 1 May 2022


This leaflet has been produced to give you general information about your injury. We understand you may not have seen a clinician face to face in fracture clinic however, most of your questions should be answered by this leaflet.  If after reading it, you have any concerns or require further explanation, please do not hesitate to contact the fracture clinic team. Contact details are available at the end of this leaflet.

What is a radial head or neck fracture?

The radius is one of the long bones of your forearm. A fracture to the head or neck occurs up near the elbow joint. It is usually caused by falling on an outstretched arm.

How should it be treated?

This fracture can be treated in a sling for the first week, this will allow time for the pain to settle. To manage your pain, we advise that you regularly take simple pain relief, which can be bought over the counter. If you have allergies or conditions, which prevent the use of pain-relieving or anti-inflammatory medication, please seek advice from your doctor or a pharmacist.

Additionally in the first 72 hours, using ice packs on injured area may help with pain. It can be applied for 10 – 15 minutes every 2- 3 hours. This will also help to reduce any swelling.

There are many different ways in which ice can be applied however crushed ice, in the form of frozen peas for example, is the most effective. Whichever method you choose it is important that you wrap the ice in a damp towel, in order to prevent it from ‘burning’ the skin.

Remember however, you should:

  • Only use an ice pack on areas that have normal skin sensation i.e. where you can feel hot and cold
  • Not apply ice to an open wound
  • Not apply an ice pack to an area that has poor circulation
  • Check the skin every five minutes and stop using it if:
    • the area becomes white, blue or blotchy
    • the area becomes excessively painful, numb or tingles

Avoid smoking

It is really important to note that smoking will delay the healing process and so should be avoided. Talk to your GP or go to www.smokefree.nhs.uk for more information


You will not be insured to drive whilst you a wearing a sling. It is always good to check with your insurance company however, we advise it should be safe to return to driving when:

  • You are no longer using the sling
  • You can comfortably grip the steering wheel, move the gear stick, pull up the hand brake and activate the indicators
  • You can perform an emergency stop

Can I do any exercises to help?

The hand, wrist, shoulder and neck can be moved gently through their full range as comfort allows from day one of your injury. This will prevent stiffness developing in these joints while your elbow is in a sling. Try these exercises below 3 to 4 times per day.

Finger flexion and extension

Whilst in your sling make a tight fist with your affected hand and now spread your fingers out as far as possible. Repeat 10 times

Wrist flexion and extension

Whilst remaining in your sling support your forearm with the unaffected arm. Using your wrist only, move your hand down towards the floor.


Hold the stretch for 10 seconds.

Now move your hand towards the ceiling. Repeat 10 times each direction

Shoulder flexion

Keeping your injured elbow bent simply support it at the elbow with the opposite arm and lift the arm away from the body as high as you are able.

Neck rotation

Sit upright in a chair and turn your head and neck as far to left as possible. Hold 5 seconds and return to start

Now repeat to the right as far as possible. Hold 5 seconds to return to the start.

Repeat 10 times slowly in each direction.

Neck side flexion

Sit upright in a chair and drop your ear down to your left shoulder as far as possible without lifting the shoulder. Hold 5 seconds and return to start

Now repeat to the right as far as possible. Hold 5 seconds to return to the start

Repeat 10 times slowly in each direction

At 5-7 days following your injury, you can wean from the sling and start the exercises described below. Regaining movement in the early stages is really important to prevent long-term stiffness and so it is advisable to ensure you are still taking regular painkillers when you start these exercises.

  1. Remove the arm from the sling and straighten it down by your side.

Now bend the elbow as much as possible.

Repeat 10 times slowly in each direction

    2. Bend your elbow and tuck it into your side.

Turn your palm as far as possible upwards without moving your elbow. Feel the stretch and hold for 10 seconds.

Now turn your hand back over so your palm faces downwards, feel the stretch and hold for 10 seconds.

All photos with kind permission of ©Physiotec™

Pushing yourself up from a chair with your affected arm, carrying out repetitive wrist and hand movements and lifting objects heavier than a cup of water with the affected arm should be avoided for the first 4 weeks.

However, from 4 weeks, as your movement improves and pain reduces, little by little you can increase the amount of weight that you are able to lift.  Progressing quickly from lifting a cup of water to a heavy shopping bag for example would not be advisable, as is likely to result in overloading of the soft tissue and could consequently delay your recovery.

If you participate in an active hobby then it is advisable that you do not return to this until you have full strength and full range of movement.

If you play a sport, you can practice sports specific activities; like throwing or catching. Build up these exercises gradually 6 to 8 weeks following your injury, in order to help regain strength and flexibility, before returning to full training sessions and competition.

Do I require a follow up?

Do I need to be referred to Physiotherapy?

If the fracture clinic team feel you need to be seen by the Physiotherapy team, you will be directly referred to physiotherapy from fracture clinic and if this is the case, you will have been informed of this in your telephone call following your Virtual Fracture Clinic appointment. You will receive a letter or phone call to book this appointment within 2 weeks of the referral being made.

If you have not received one within this time, please contact the physiotherapy department on 01482 674880 between the hours 8.00am – 4.00pm Monday to Friday. If there is no answer please leave a message and your call will be returned with the same working day.

Most of the time however, a referral to Physiotherapy is not needed, but if you have any concerns, are unable to follow the advice in this leaflet, or if you still have reduced movement, strength or function,  East Riding GP patients can contact the East Riding MSK Physiotherapy service on 01377 208300. Alternatively you can complete a self referral form on https://www.chcpmsk.org.uk/self-referral-form-introduction

Hull GP patients should call the fracture clinic number in the information below.

Do I need a Fracture Clinic follow up appointment?

A follow up appointment for fracture clinic is not required and you have been placed on a Patient Initiated Follow Up (PIFU) pathway. This means you will not have another appointment to be seen in fracture clinic.

If, however you have any problems or further queries relating to this injury within the next six weeks, you can contact us on 01482 674378 during clinic hours 9.00am – 4.30pm Monday to Friday. Please do not choose an option and when prompted leave a message if there is no answer and we will aim to get back to you within the same working day. If you have not needed to contact us in the six weeks after your injury, you will be discharged and should seek advice from your GP.

This leaflet was produced by the Orthopaedic Department, Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and will be reviewed in May 2025

General Advice and Consent

Most of your questions should have been answered by this leaflet, but remember that this is only a starting point for discussion with the healthcare team.

Consent to treatment

Before any doctor, nurse or therapist examines or treats you, they must seek your consent or permission. In order to make a decision, you need to have information from health professionals about the treatment or investigation which is being offered to you. You should always ask them more questions if you do not understand or if you want more information.

The information you receive should be about your condition, the alternatives available to you, and whether it carries risks as well as the benefits. What is important is that your consent is genuine or valid. That means:

  • you must be able to give your consent
  • you must be given enough information to enable you to make a decision
  • you must be acting under your own free will and not under the strong influence of another person

Information about you

We collect and use your information to provide you with care and treatment. As part of your care, information about you will be shared between members of a healthcare team, some of whom you may not meet. Your information may also be used to help train staff, to check the quality of our care, to manage and plan the health service, and to help with research. Wherever possible we use anonymous data.

We may pass on relevant information to other health organisations that provide you with care. All information is treated as strictly confidential and is not given to anyone who does not need it. If you have any concerns please ask your doctor, or the person caring for you.

Under the General Data Protection Regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018 we are responsible for maintaining the confidentiality of any information we hold about you. For further information visit the following page: Confidential Information about You.

If you or your carer needs information about your health and wellbeing and about your care and treatment in a different format, such as large print, braille or audio, due to disability, impairment or sensory loss, please advise a member of staff and this can be arranged.

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