Nondisplaced and minimally displaced fractures of the radial head and neck are common injuries, yet the role of physical therapy (PT) in their treatment is unclear. The aim of this trial was to assess the need for formal PT following a simple fracture of the radial head or neck.
Patients who had a nondisplaced or minimally displaced fracture of the radial head or neck and presented to 1 of 2 providers were enrolled prospectively between January 2014 and August 2016. Patients were randomized to receive outpatient PT or perform self-directed home exercise. The follow-up intervals were 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months, and at least 1 year. The outcome measures were Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand (DASH) scores; pain; time to clinical healing; and range of motion. Demographic data were analyzed using the Mann-Whitney U test and Fisher exact test. Independent-samples t tests were utilized to compare outcome measures.
Fifty-one patients were enrolled in the study. The average follow-up was 16.6 months. Twenty-five patients were randomized to a home-exercise cohort, and 26 patients were randomized to a formal-outpatient-PT cohort. There were no significant differences in demographics between cohorts. At 6 weeks, the home-exercise cohort had better function as indicated by a significantly lower mean DASH score compared with the PT cohort (p = 0.021). At 3 months, 6 months, and final follow-up, there were no significant differences between cohorts for any outcome measure.
Patients who performed home exercises after sustaining a nondisplaced or minimally displaced fracture of the radial head or neck demonstrated better early function at 6 weeks compared with patients who received formal PT. After 6 weeks, there were no significant differences in outcomes. These data suggest that prescribing PT for patients who have an isolated nondisplaced or minimally displaced fracture of the radial head or neck is not cost-effective and that instructing the patient to perform self-directed exercises will be followed by a similar outcome.
Level of Evidence:
Therapeutic Level II. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.