What is an elbow fracture?
The elbow is the joint between the upper arm bone and two forearm bones. Either of these three bones may break, or fracture. Fractures may be closed (the broken bone does not break through the skin) or open (the skin is broken and the bone may be visible in the wound). Fractures can range from relatively minor “cracks” that need close monitoring to complex injuries that require surgical reconstruction. Sprains, strains, or dislocations may occur at the same time as a fracture.
What causes an elbow fracture?
A fractured elbow can occur from falling on an outstretched arm or directly hitting the elbow. Traumatic events, such as automobile or bike accidents, may also lead to elbow fractures.
What are the symptoms of an elbow fracture?
Some symptoms of a fractured elbow may include:
- Sudden, intense pain
- A snap or pop felt or heard at the time of the injury
- Swelling and bruising that appears within 30 minutes of the injury
- Inability to straighten elbow
- Bruising around the elbow
- Difficulty moving through full range of motion
- Tenderness to the touch
- Changed appearance – elbow is out of normal position or deformed
- Numbness or tingling in the elbow, forearm or hand
How is an elbow fracture diagnosed?
A physician will ask questions about how the injury occurred, conduct a physical exam to identify tender areas, and check the pulse (for blood flow to the wrist). X-rays will be taken of the elbow to confirm that a fracture has occurred.
How is a fracture of the elbow treated?
Treatment of a broken elbow depends on the nature of the injury. Treatment may be as simple as elevating the splinted arm, applying ice to swollen areas, and taking pain relievers. However, many elbow fractures need surgery to properly align the bones and to ensure that the elbow heals without any loss of function.
The goal of treatment for an elbow fracture is to regain full motion of the elbow. This often requires a period of physical therapy after surgery. A return to normal activities (except sports and heavy labor) can be expected in about four months. Full healing can take more than a year.
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