Elbow Fracture

What is an elbow fracture?

An elbow fracture is a break in one of the three bones in the elbow — the upper arm bone (humerus) or one of the two forearm bones (radius and ulna). These bones are vital to a functional arm and any damage to them requires prompt evaluation by one of the elbow specialists at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush (MOR) Hand, Wrist & Elbow Institute.

Fractures most often are caused by a fall when someone lands hard on their arm. Permanent damage to the bones and surrounding tissues can occur without proper treatment.

What are the symptoms of an elbow fracture?

Broken or fractured elbows usually have the following symptoms soon after the injury has occurred:

  • Severe pain in the elbow or arm that usually worsens with movement
  • Swelling and bruising in the elbow
  • A visible deformity or enlargement of part of the elbow
  • Difficulty moving the elbow

How is an elbow fracture diagnosed?

Elbow fractures are diagnosed using imaging and a physician examination. It is necessary to perform an X-ray of the elbow to view the bones affected often from several angles. In complicated injuries or when X-rays do not give adequate information, an MRI or CT scan may be ordered. It is critical to know the extent of the damage to the bones so that proper treatment can be provided. Poor alignment or untreated fractures can result in permanent damage and loss of elbow motion and function.

What are the treatments for an elbow fracture?

Non-surgical Treatment Options

These treatments are appropriate when the bone alignment is adequate:

  • Apply ice to elbow
  • Wear an elbow splint or cast

Surgical Treatment Options

Surgical treatments for elbow fractures vary and depend on extent of damage. If the bones were broken and pulled away from each other, they may need to be realigned.

Complex fractures (several breaks to the bone) may require fixation devices to hold broken bones together — such as plates, screws, and/or pins. This is commonly needed for fractures with loose bone fragments, an unstable joint, or bones that are out of place. The physicians at the Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush Hand, Wrist & Elbow Institute have particular expertise in elbow fractures. These doctors have written extensively on the topic and have been involved in minimally invasive implant designs for elbow fractures.

Almost all cases of elbow fracture require protection of the joint during healing. A splint or cast may be worn for several weeks, whether surgery is needed or not. Medication may be prescribed for pain and inflammation, such as ibuprofen or even codeine.