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Elbow Fracture
(Broken Elbow)

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

Causes:
An elbow fracture is caused by trauma to the elbow bone(s). Trauma can be caused by:

  • Falling on an outstretched arm
  • Falling directly on the elbow
  • Direct blow to the elbow
  • Twisting the elbow beyond the elbow's normal range of motion
Risk Factors:
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease, condition, or injury.
  • Advancing age
  • Decreased muscle mass
  • Osteoporosis, due to menopause or other conditions
  • Participation in certain sports, such as football, hockey, wrestling, and 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, and will examine the injured area.

Tests may include:

X-rays – a test that uses radiation to take a picture of structures inside the body, especially bones. It is 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. It is used to look at the cartilage and tendons around the elbow and at complicated joint fractures.

Treatment:
Treatment will depend on the severity of the injury. 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 itself

Devices that may be used to hold the bone in place while it heals include:

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

The doctor may prescribe pain medication depending on the level of pain. Your doctor will order more x-rays while the bone heals to ensure that the bones have not shifted position.

Exercises

When your doctor decides you are ready, start elbow range-of-motion exercises plus and strengthening exercises for the shoulder and the entire arm. You may be referred to a physical therapist to assist you with these exercises.

Do not return to sports activity until your elbow is fully healed and completely functional.

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.
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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