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Elbow Fractures

The elbow joint consists of three bones: the two forearm bones (radius and ulna) and the long bone in the upper arm (humerus).  A fracture at the elbow can be seen in any of these bones, each of which can has a different treatment protocol and prognosis.  Fractures at the elbow can occur with a fall on an outstretched hand, direct blow or a twisting injury.  Other soft tissue injuries can occur in conjunction with a fracture including sprains, strains or dislocations.


If you have suffered a fracture in your elbow, it is likely that you have moderate to significant pain in the elbow, point tenderness, swelling, bruising and may have noticed a deformity.  An x-ray is warranted to evaluate the fracture and help determine the proper course of treatment.  Depending on the patient’s age, severity and location of the fracture, either surgical or non-operative treatment can be rendered.  If surgical intervention is required, it is likely that a plate and screws will be used to stabilize the fracture site.  Regardless of treatment, a period of immobilization is likely followed by a course of rehabilitation to restore motion and regain strength.

 

Radial Head Fractures

 

This type of fracture is a very common elbow fracture.  This fracture can occur with a fall on an outstretched hand as the weight transfers up the forearm and into the elbow joint.  The head of the radius is most important with forearm rotation.  Therefore, if you have suffered a radial head fracture, this movement is likely most painful.  This type of fracture can typically be treated conservatively with a short period of immobilization then progressive motion as healing and pain allow.

 

Olecranon Fractures


The tip of the elbow on the back of the arm is called the olecranon.  It is the part of the ulna that articulates (or attaches) to the humerus.  Because there is little soft tissue or muscle covering this bony structure, it is susceptible to injury by a direct blow or fall onto the tip of the elbow, often resulting in a fracture.  If the fracture is non-displaced (lined up perfectly), surgery may not be required – cast, splint or sling immobilization may be sufficient to maintain alignment.  A displaced olecranon fracture may require surgery to stabilize the fragments with a combination of plates, screws, wires and/or sutures.


Supracondylar Fractures


The distal (far) end of the humerus is typically a strong structure and is rarely fractured.  Although rare, this type of fracture can occur with a direct blow to this part of the elbow or as a result of a fall on an outstretched hand.  There is some concern for nerve or blood vessel damage with a fracture in this area and must be evaluated by a medical professional.  This type of fracture typically requires surgery to stabilize the area unless it is a stable fracture and there is no displacement or nerve/artery damage.