An elbow fracture is a break in the tip of your elbow. The elbow joint is made up of 3 bones- humerus, ulna and radius. If a fracture occurs in any of the 3 bones, it can be very painful and make elbow motion difficult or impossible.
There are 3 types of elbow fractures:
The most common type of elbow fracture, an olecranon fracture is a break in the bony “tip” of the elbow. The olecranon is located at the end of the ulna and directly under the skin of the elbow, which is thin and does not have much protection from muscles or other soft tissues. This makes it very vulnerable to fracture.
Radial head fracture
The radial head is the end of the radius that connects with the humerus at the elbow joint. Radial head fractures occur when there is an impact that causes the radial head to push into the humerus so hard that it causes a fracture, such as when someone breaks a fall with their arm.
Distal humerus fracture
The distal humerus is the lower end of the humerus that forms the upper part of the elbow. Distal humerus fractures occur when there is a direct blow or huge impact to the elbow.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Some symptoms of an elbow fracture include:
- Severe and intense pain in the elbow when moving or rotating the forearm
- Inability to move the elbow
- Swelling at the end or back of the elbow
- Bruising and discolouration in the elbow
- Finger numbness
- Tenderness to the touch
- Feeling of instability in the joint
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES & RISK FACTORS?
Elbow fractures have a number of causes, such as:
- Direct fall onto the elbow.
- High impact or direct blow to the elbow due to a motor vehicle accident or from being hit by something hard
- Breaking a fall and falling on an outstretched arm.
WHAT IS THE DIAGNOSIS?
A history of the injury and a physical examination of the elbow and arm will be conducted by the Doctor. He will do some physical tests, such as checking if there are any other areas of tenderness, checking on your pulse and blood flow, and if you are able to move your fingers and wrist.
Imaging tests will be taken, such as an x-ray to confirm the type and severity of elbow fracture. A CT scan may also be taken if required.
WHAT ARE THE TREATMENT OPTIONS?
If your bones are not displaced (out of alignment), nonsurgical treatment methods will be used, such as:
- Placing your elbow in a splint or sling to hold the elbow in place
- Physiotherapy, such as gentle exercises to help you regain muscle strength and restore your range of motion
Should your fracture be displaced or if the bones are exposed through the skin, surgery is recommended.
The most common surgical procedure performed is open reduction and internal fixation. This procedure involves the repositioning (reduction) of the bone pieces into their regular alignment. These pieces are then held in place by screws, wires, pins or plates made of metal which are attached on the outside of the bone.
WHAT IS THE RECOVERY PROCESS AFTER A SURGERY?
Depending on the extent of the injury, recovery time varies from case to case. Do expect to be in a splint or cast for a period after your surgery to help support the recovery. Physiotherapy will also be required, to help improve your range of motion and regain your muscle strength. Refrain from lifting heavy objects, and doing activities that will strain your elbow.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS AND COMPLICATIONS?
Even though the surgery is very safe, however there may be some complications. These include:
- Damage to surrounding nerves and blood vessels
- Non-union of the bones
- Irritation from the implants