JOURNAL ARTICLE
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Diagnosis of occult radial head and neck fracture in adults.

Injury 2015 November
The purpose of this study was to compare imaging modalities in the diagnosis of occult radial head and neck fractures and to assess the diagnostic value of ultrasound in diagnosing occult fractures of the radial head and neck. The study included 193 patients (101 male, 92 female) who were referred by trauma surgeons from January 2011 to July 2014 and presented with history of acute elbow trauma. The mean age of the patients was 37 years (range 15-82 years); 95 right and 98 left elbows were included in the study. Clinical examinations and standard radiograms were conducted. The anteroposterior radiographic view revealed no visible signs of fracture. The lateral radiographic view showed displacement of the anterior and posterior fat pads (fat pad sign) due to joint effusion, which is an indirect sign of fracture. In all 193 cases, ultrasound examination showed intraarticular effusion. In 176 cases (91%), there was effusion in both the olecranon bursa and the elbow joint. In 10 patients (5%), there was effusion only inside the elbow joint and in seven cases (4%) there was effusion only in the olecranon bursa. Cortical discontinuity (a direct sign of fracture) was clearly visualised in 157 cases (82%), in the radial neck in 108 cases and in the radial head in 49 cases. Ultrasound findings of fracture were questionable in 36 cases (18%). Step-off deformities, tiny avulsed bone fragments, double-line appearance of cortical margins, and diffuse irregularity of the bone surfaces were identified as auxiliary ultrasound findings (indirect signs of fracture). Standard radiograms were repeated after 7-10 days. In 184 cases (95%), there was a clearly visible fracture: a fracture of the radial neck in 111 cases (58%) and a fracture of non-displaced radial head in 73 cases (37%). In nine cases (5%), radial fracture was not confirmed on radiogram and MRI was performed in these patients. In conclusion, ultrasound imaging proved to be an effective method for diagnosing occult fractures of the radial head or neck when initial radiograms showed only intraarticular effusion. Ultrasound imaging is a cost-effective, easy-to-use and radiation-free method. For these reasons we recommend it for early detection of occult fracture in the emergency room.

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