Elbow Fracture
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Elbow Fracture

(Broken Elbow; Elbow, Broken)

En Español (Spanish Version)

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

The Elbow Joint

Nucleus factsheet image

© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

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

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)

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

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

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.

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.

Healing Time

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

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.

RESOURCES:

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
http://www.aaos.org/

American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
http://www.aossm.org/tabs/Index.aspx/

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Orthopaedic Association
http://www.coa-aco.org/

Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
http://www.canorth.org/

References:

Elbow fractures in children. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://www.aaos.org. Updated October 2007. Accessed July 28, 2008.

Elbow, fractures and dislocations—adult. eMedicine website. Available at: http://www.emedicine.com/Radio/topic234.htm. Updated July 2004. Accessed May 30, 2001.

Olecranon fractures of the elbow. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00503. Updated October 2007. Accessed July 28, 2008.



Last reviewed October 2007 by Robert E. Leach, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


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