Authors of section


Andrew Howard, Theddy Slongo, Peter Schmittenbecher

Executive Editor

James Hunter

General Editor

Fergal Monsell

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Patient examination and radiology

1. Visual inspection

Assess the patient for the following signs:

1. Deformity of the elbow and forearm and adjacent joints. Take care to avoid pain during examination.

Extensive swelling in the presence of a proximal forearm fracture may be a sign of elbow dislocation.

patient examination and radiology

2. Skin discoloration is indicative of severe fracture displacement or of accompanying elbow dislocation.

patient examination and radiology

3. Neurovascular examination:

  • Peripheral pulses
  • Finger movement
  • Cutaneous sensation
patient examination and radiology

2. Neurological injuries

Neurological injuries in proximal forearm fractures are rare.

Neurological assessment may be difficult and is influenced by the level of pain and the child’s age.

3. Vascular injuries

Vascular injuries in proximal forearm fractures are rare.

The radial pulse is verified by palpation.

The presence of a normal pulse does not exclude compartment syndrome.

4. Preliminary reduction

There is no need for preliminary reduction unless the elbow is dislocated.

Manipulation of a suspected proximal radial fracture may compromise the blood supply to the radial head.

patient examination and radiology

5. Compartment syndrome

Compartment syndrome is an uncommon but devastating complication of upper extremity fractures.

The most straightforward clinical test for evolving muscle ischemia is pain on passive digital extension and/or flexion.

Forearm compartment syndrome and fasciotomy are described in the relevant additional material.

patient examination and radiology

6. X-ray examination of the elbow

The arm is often immobilized in a cast making it difficult to obtain standard x-rays.

Suboptimal x-rays may be sufficient for diagnosis and treatment decisions in proximal forearm fractures.

If the fracture is clearly displaced and surgery is indicated, a further view may be postponed until the patient is under general anesthesia.

Check for associated fractures of the distal humerus (eg, avulsion of medial epicondyle).

patient examination and radiology

7. Commonly overlooked fracture patterns

Check for:

  • Combined injuries of radial neck and olecranon
  • Avulsion fractures associated with dislocation eg, medial epicondyle or coronoid process
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