Elbow Fractures Explained
Elbow fractures can be painful and debilitating if left untreated. This article will walk you through common causes of elbow fractures and what can be done to treat them.
Causes of elbow fractures
Since the bony tip of the elbow is vulnerable without much protection from soft tissue, elbows can break in a variety of ways depending on the nature of the injury. Common elbow fractures include:
- Olecranon elbow fracture: The olecranon is the bony part of the elbow that juts out at the tip. Falling or another direct blow to the area can break this bony surface.
- Fractured radial head: The elbow joint is composed of three bones: the upper arm bone (humerus) and then two bones in the forearm (ulna and radius). In this condition, the head of the radius fractures where it meets the elbow.
- Supracondylar fracture: The base of the upper arm bone can break where it meets the elbow joint. This fracture is most common among children and often leads to displacement of the affected bones.
Elbow fractures are commonly caused by direct impact to the elbow, usually either from falling or catching yourself falling. The force of the impact can fracture the bone at a single point or, more severely, in multiple places. Any type of direct blow to the elbow can cause it to fracture, though, including collision with a hard surface during sports or an accident.
Symptoms of elbow fractures
Elbow fractures often produce the following symptoms:
- Sudden pain in the elbow after a direct blow
- Difficulty moving the elbow or forearm
- Popping or snapping sound at time of injury
- Swelling along the elbow or forearm
- Stiffness in the elbow joint
- Bruising along the elbow or forearm
- Tender to touch
- Numbness in the arm, wrist, or hand
- General instability in the elbow joint
- Visibly dislocated bone
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to get treated right away to avoid further complications or injury.
Diagnosing elbow fractures
To diagnose a broken elbow, a doctor will first physically examine the injured elbow for signs of dislocation, pain, and swelling. Afterward, the doctor will likely order an X-ray to confirm the diagnosis of a fracture. Occasionally, a CT scan may be helpful to get a more precise image of the injured elbow.
Treating elbow fractures
Immediately following an elbow fracture, it’s usually recommended to apply ice to the injured elbow to reduce swelling and to take pain relievers to manage pain and inflammation.
If the bones involved in the elbow fracture have not been displaced from the injury, a doctor will usually suggest wearing a sling, cast, or splint to stabilize and immobilize the injured elbow, which allows it to heal. They will also likely recommend physical therapy exercises that increase your range of motion and prevent elbow stiffness.
In more severe cases where the bone has shifted out of place from the injury, surgery may be necessary to repair the fracture. One of the most common procedures is known as open reduction and internal fixation. In this procedure, the fractured bone sections are realigned and then fastened in place with pins, screws, or metal plates to allow the bone to heal in the correct position.
If the bone has been too damaged during injury, a bone graft may be necessary to replace the damaged bone section. In some cases, the broken bone is too small to be repaired and must be removed, along with any surrounding bone fragments.
A doctor will determine the right course of treatment depending on your individual case.
Taking care of elbow fractures at Midwest Orthopaedic Consultants
Nobody wants to deal with the pain and frustration of a broken elbow. At Midwest Orthopaedic Consultants, we’re prepared with some of the most innovative treatments available to get you back to doing what you love. Our orthopedic specialists and surgeons are ready to meet your needs with high-quality, compassionate care.
Elbow fractures can be serious. If you suspect you may have an elbow fracture, don’t wait any longer to get checked out. Book an appointment with us today!
Only a doctor can tell you if you have this ailment. This is for informational purposes and should not be used in lieu of a doctor’s opinion.