What is an Elbow Fracture?

A broken elbow occurs with the fracturing of one of the bones that surrounds or makes up the elbow joint. Elbow Fracture is the medical term for a broken elbow. This break can occur in any of the three bones that comprise the elbow joint. These bones are the humerus (upper arm bone, radius (larger forearm bone), or the ulna (smaller forearm bone). An elbow fracture could also result in the breaking of multiple of these bones simultaneously.

What Causes an Elbow Fracture?

The causes of a broken elbow fracture are from a force being applied to the elbow that is stronger than the bone or bones are able to withstand. This can be the result of similar causes as that of a sprain, but the external force was positioned so that it affected the bone instead of the ligaments in the area. These causes may include:

● Falling and attempting to brace the fall with your hand resulting in a FOOSH injury (Fall On OutStretched Hand)
● Motor vehicle accident
● Direct trauma to the elbow
● High impact and contact sports
● Weak surrounding musculature
● Medical condition that lead to a weakening of bones can make one susceptible to fractures

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Symptoms of a Fractured Elbow

The symptoms of an elbow fracture may be one or all of the following:

● Severe pain and stiffness in the elbow
● Swelling, erythema (reddening of skin) and warmth of the skin
● Bruising
● Possible visible deformity of elbow
● A ‘pins and needles’ sensation that may extend down the forearm and into the hands if nerves are involved
● Loss of range of motion of complete inability to move the elbow joint
● Feeling of instability in elbow

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Elbow Fracture Treatment

The only way to definitively confirm if you have broken a bone in the elbow is through imaging techniques, starting with an x-ray of the area. After an initial consultation with your orthopedic surgeon, an x-ray will be ordered if a fracture is suspected. If it is confirmed that you have broken a bone in the elbow, an MRI or CT scan of the elbow may be ordered in order to look at the area in greater detail and determine if there was any involvement of soft tissue damage caused by the injury.

With a fracture, immobilization is key to allow for healing of the tissues. Surgery is not always required in the case of a fracture. But, if surgery is needed, the area of the fracture and ensuing type of corrective surgery will be determined by the severity and type of fracture that you present with. Your elbow will be placed in the proper position in the case of a displaced fracture, and then will be placed in a cast for 6-8 weeks in order for healing to take place.

After a period of time and your doctor is confident that enough healing has occurred, your cast will be taken off and a course of physical therapy will be ordered to restore range of motion, strength, and function of the elbow.
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