Elbow fractures are fairly common, with the break occurring in the bony tip of the elbow known as the olecranon. The olecranon, positioned as it is just under the skin of the elbow, has little protection from muscles or other soft tissues. A direct blow to the elbow or a fall on an outstretched arm is often the culprit. In this kind of fracture, the bone may break into a number of pieces or the break may consist of a slight crack. A very painful injury, this break makes elbow motion difficult or impossible.
What causes it?
Elbow fractures are typically a result of one of the following:
- A fall on an outstretched arm
- A direct fall on the elbow
- A direct blow to the elbow from something hard
How do you know you have it?
Depending on the break, symptoms can include:
- Immediate and severe pain
- Pain with movement or forearm rotation
- Tenderness to the touch
- Finger numbness
- Instability, feeling like the elbow is going to “pop out”
How we fix it
The OSI upper extremity team hand is here to examine you for signs and symptoms of an elbow fracture. The following are used to determine the extent of the injury and the best course of care:
- Physical exam: Your doctor will perform a careful and thorough examination of your elbow, checking to see that you can move your wrist and fingers as well as determining if there are other areas of tenderness, which might indicate further injury, such as an elbow dislocation.
- X-rays: X-rays help diagnose the fracture and identify its extent. Additional X-rays may be needed to check your upper arm, forearm, shoulder, wrist or hand.
Depending on the injury, surgery may not be required. If pieces of the bone are not out of place, your OSI physician may use a splint/cast to hold the elbow in place. With this treatment, the following are typical:
- The splint/cast is worn for 6 weeks
- A sling will accompany a splint to assist in keeping the elbow in position
- Multiple X-rays are taken to ensure proper alignment
- Medications to relieve pain
- Physical therapy
Some elbow fractures may require surgery to realign and stabilize the fracture. Surgical options might include the use of pins, plates, or screws to maintain proper position of your bones during healing. To protect the fracture following surgery, a splint or cast will be worn. Specific exercises are provided to decrease any stiffness that might develop after fracture treatment and to improve function.
Whether your injury is treated surgically or conservatively, your efforts during the rehabilitation phase will contribute significantly to a full recovery.