Arm conditionsArms & hands conditionsDisease, Condition & Injury

Elbow fracture

(Broken Elbow; Elbow, Broken)

Elbow fracture – Definition

An elbow fracture is a break in one or more of the bones that make up the elbow joint. The bones in the elbow joint are:

  • Humerus — the upper arm bone
  • Ulna — the larger of the forearm (lower arm) bones
  • Radius — the smaller bone in the forearm

Elbow fracture – Causes

This is caused by trauma to the elbow bones. Trauma can be caused by:

  • Falling on an outstretched arm
  • Falling directly on the elbow
  • Experiencing a direct blow to the elbow
  • Twisting the elbow beyond the normal range of motion

Elbow fracture – Risk Factors

These factors increase your chance of developing an elbow fracture. Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors:

  • Advancing age
  • Decreased muscle mass
  • Osteoporosis (due to menopause or other conditions)
  • Playing certain sports (eg, football, hockey, wrestling, gymnastics)

Elbow fracture – Symptoms

Symptoms include:

  • Pain, often severe
  • Tenderness, swelling, and bruising around the elbow
  • Numbness in fingers, hand, or forearm
  • Decreased range of motion
  • A lump or visible deformity over the fracture site

Elbow fracture – Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms, physical activity, and how the injury occurred. The area will be examined.

Tests may include:

  • X-rays — a test that uses radiation to take a picture of structures inside the body, especially bones; used to look for a break in the elbow area
  • CT scan — a test that uses computers to make pictures of structures inside the elbow; used to look at the cartilage and tendons around the elbow

Elbow fracture – Treatment

Treatment depends on how severe the injury is. Treatment involves:

  • Putting the pieces of the bone back in position, which may require anesthesia and/or surgery
  • Keeping the pieces together while the bone heals

These devices may be used to hold the bone in place while it heals:

  • A cast or splint (may be used with or without surgery)
  • A metal plate with screws (requires surgery)
  • Screws alone (requires surgery)

Depending on the level of pain, your doctor may prescribe medication.

More x-rays will be done to be sure the bones have not shifted.

Elbow fracture – Exercises

  • Start range-of-motion and strengthening exercises.
    • Your doctor will tell you when you are ready to start exercising. You may be referred to a physical therapist.
  • Do not return to sports until you are completely healed.

Elbow fracture – Healing Time

It takes about 8-10 weeks for a fractured elbow to heal.

Elbow fracture – Prevention

To help prevent elbow fractures:

  • Do not put yourself at risk for a trauma to the elbow.
  • Eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D.
  • Build strong muscles to prevent falls and to stay active and agile.

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