An elbow fracture is a fracture at the tip of the elbow. This can happen as a result of trauma such as a direct blow, falling on the elbow or falling on an outstretched hand. It is a common childhood injury.
Types of Elbow Fractures
- Olecranon fractures: The pointy tip of your elbow (the olecranon) is part of the ulna — one of the two bones that make up the forearm. The olecranon is especially vulnerable to breakage because it’s not covered or protected by muscles.
- Radial head fractures: The radial head connects with the humerus (the upper arm bone). This type of fracture usually occurs when a person tries to break a fall with their arm. As a result, the radial head pushes into the humerus and causes a fracture.
- Distal humerus fractures: The distal humerus connects the shoulder to the elbow. Fractures of this bone aren’t common, but they can occur as a result of trauma or falling onto a bent elbow.
Cause of Elbow Fractures
A fractured elbow may be the result of trauma, such as an accident or sports injury. This type of fracture also occurs when a person tries to break a fall on an outstretched arm.
Symptoms of Elbow Fractures
While some elbow fractures cause intense, sudden pain and visible deformity, others may exhibit more subtle symptoms. Common fractured elbow symptoms include:
- Swelling near the back of the elbow.
- Stiffness of the elbow.
- Bruising around the elbow or arm.
- Numbness or weakness in your hand or fingers.
- Tenderness to the touch.
- Pain when rotating your forearm.
- Feeling as though your elbow is going to “pop out” of joint.
In some cases, a fractured elbow is visibly deformed. This means that the elbow is dislocated or that bones are out of place. However, not all elbow fractures result in visible deformity.
If there’s no visible deformity, a person with a fractured elbow might notice localized swelling, bruising and tenderness to the touch. In many cases, there is immediate pain or a “popping” sound upon impact.
Diagnosis of Elbow Fractures
our Orthopedic Specialist at Shreya Hospital will perform an examination and ask you questions about your symptoms. They will also:
- Feel around the elbow to see if there are other areas of tenderness.
- Check your skin for cuts from bone fragments.
- Check your pulse at the wrist to make sure there is good blood flow to your hand and fingers.
- Check your range of motion.
In addition to a visual examination, they will also take scans to determine the extent of damage. These imaging tests may include:
- CT (computed tomography) scans.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).
- Musculoskeletal ultrasounds.
Treatment of Elbow Fractures
Treatment depends on the severity of your elbow fracture. There are two main approaches:
- Non-surgical treatments: When a person has non-displaced fracture, it means that the bone is broken but it’s still in the correct position. Non-displaced fractures can usually be corrected with non-surgical treatments such as casts or splints or a sling.
- Surgical treatments: When the bone has moved out of place, it’s called a displaced fracture. People with displaced fractures typically require surgery to reconstruct the elbow. This involves moving the bones back into their proper positions and holding them in place with pins, screws and plates.
Elbow fractures in children are treated with either non-surgical (with a cast, splint or sling) or surgical methods (with pins, screws or plates). Prompt treatment is imperative for young children because their bones are still developing. Correcting the problem immediately is much more predictable. Waiting too long could lead to improper bone alignment or permanent damage.