Radial Head Arthroplasty: A Systematic Review

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Despite the expanding body of literature on radial head arthroplasty, the increasing understanding of elbow anatomy, biomechanics, and kinetics, and the evolution of surgical techniques and prosthesis designs, there is currently no evidence to support one type of radial head prosthesis over another. The purposes of the present report were to review the literature and to explore the association between prosthesis design variables and the timing of surgery and the outcome of modern radial head arthroplasty.


The literature search was limited to studies involving skeletally mature patients. Major databases were searched from January 1940 to May 2015 to identify studies relating to functional and subjective outcomes and radiographic results after radial head arthroplasty.


Thirty articles involving 727 patients were included. Seventy percent of the implants were made of cobalt-chromium, 15% were made of pyrocarbon, 9% were made of titanium, and 6% were made of Vitallium. Seventy percent were monopolar, and 30% were bipolar. Twenty-one percent were cemented in place, 32% were press-fit, 32% were intentionally loose-fit, and 15% were fixed with an expandable stem. The weighted average duration of follow-up was 45 months. The rate of revision ranged from 0% to 29% among studies. The incidence of revision was 8% during 2,714 person-years of follow-up across all 727 patients, yielding a crude overall revision rate of 2.06 per 100 person-years of follow-up. The revision rate was not significantly affected by prosthesis polarity, material, or fixation technique, nor was it significantly affected by the delay of treatment. There was also no significant effect of prosthesis polarity, material, or fixation technique on postoperative range of motion. The Mayo Elbow Performance Score was only reported for half of the overall patient population, but, among those patients, the combined rate of excellent and good results was 85%. Seven percent of the overall patient population underwent secondary surgery about the elbow other than revision surgery. Twenty-three percent were reported to have 1 or more complications.


On the basis of our analysis of the peer-reviewed English-language literature on radial head arthroplasty from January 1940 to May 2015, there seems to be no evidence to support one type of radial head prosthesis over another. The only exception is that silicone prostheses have been shown to be biologically and biomechanically insufficient.

Level of Evidence:

Therapeutic Level IV. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

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