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Elbow Fracture

(Broken Elbow; Elbow, Broken)

Definition

An elbow fracture is a break in one or more of the bones that make up the elbow joint. The elbow joint is made of 2 forearm bones and 1 upper arm bone.

The Elbow Joint
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Causes

This injury is caused by trauma from:

  • Falling directly on the elbow
  • A direct blow to the elbow
  • Falling on an outstretched arm
  • A motor vehicle accident

Risk Factors

The risk of fracture is higher in those with:

  • Having a health problem that may result in falls, such as weak muscles
  • Playing some sports, such as football, hockey, wrestling, or gymnastics

Symptoms

Symptoms may be:

  • Pain that is worse with movement
  • Swelling and bruising
  • Problems moving the arm
  • Numbness in the fingers, hand, or arm
  • A change in the way the elbow looks

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms, past health, and how the injury happened. Images may be taken with:

  • X-rays—can show breaks in the bone
  • CT scan—can show more details on bones and soft tissue changes

Treatment

Bones take about 8 to 10 weeks to fully heal. Treatment will help to manage pain and support the bone as it heals. This may include:

  • Medicine to ease pain
  • A cast, splint, or sling to keep the elbow in place as it heals
  • Exercises to help with strength and range of motion

Children's bones are still growing. A child with a fracture may need to be checked more often to make sure the bone heals well and keeps growing.

Putting Bones Back In Place

Some fractures cause pieces of bone to come apart. These pieces will need to be put back into place. This may be done:

  • Without surgery—medicine will decrease pain while the doctor moves the pieces back into place. A cast or other device will help keep bones in place.
  • With surgery—cuts will be made in the skin to reach the bones. Pins, wires, plates, or screws will be used to connect broken sections of bone. Tendons or ligaments may also need to be repaired.

Prevention

Most fractures are due to accidents. Healthy muscles may help to prevent more severe injuries.

RESOURCES:

American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
http://www.sportsmed.org

Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
http://www.orthoinfo.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

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

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

REFERENCES:

Distal radius fracture—emergency management. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/distal-radius-fracture-emergency-management. Accessed September 24, 2020.

Elbow fractures in children. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00037. Accessed September 24, 2020.

Elbow (olecranon) fractures. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00503. Accessed September 24, 2020.

Niver GE, Ilyas AM. Carpal tunnel syndrome after distal radius fracture. Orthop Clin North Am. 2012 Oct;43(4):521-527.

Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM  Last Updated: 10/19/2020