What is a Broken Elbow?
- A broken elbow is any type of elbow fracture that is usually obtained from a direct impact to the elbow, a twisting arm injury, or a fall. Aside from a fracture, strains, dislocations, or sprains can also occur at the same time.
- Broken elbows are usually confirmed by X-rays and even a CT (Computed Tomography) scan if further details are needed.
- There are different types of broken elbow based on the location of the fracture:
- Distal Humerus Fracture
This type of fracture is a break in the humerus (lower end of the upper arm bone) or in one of the 3 bones that come together to form the elbow joint.
Distal humerus fracture can make elbow motion challenging or even impossible. It can also be excruciating.
- Radial Head Fracture
This type of broken elbow affects the smaller bone or radius in your forearm. It’s instinctive to try and break a fall with your hands but the force of the fall could travel to your forearm bones and can cause elbow fracture.
Radial head fracture makes up about 20% of all acute elbow injuries. They are more frequent in women than in men. It’s also likely to happen in people between 30 to 40 years old.
- Olecranon Fracture
This is a fracture that involves the bony tip of the elbow. This pointy tip is part of the ulna, one of the three bones that forms the elbow joint.
The olecranon can easily break from falling on an outstretched arm or when you have a direct blow to the elbow. It is positioned under the elbow skin so it doesn’t have muscles or other soft tissues for protection.
What are the causes of a broken elbow?
- Though there are different types of broken elbows, the main causes are the same. Usually, these fractures are caused by direct trauma, a bad fall, or a twisting injury in the arms.
What are the symptoms of broken elbow?
- If you suspect a broken elbow, you need to watch out for pain, bruising, swelling, and stiffness around the elbow. You can usually hear or feel a snag or pop during the time of the injury.
- Visible deformity can mean that the elbow joint has been dislocated or the bones are out of place. You can also observe weakness or numbness in the hand, arm, and wrist.
How can a broken elbow be treated?
- Unstable fractures or those that have bones out of place require surgery to stabilize and replace the fragments or remove bone fragments. Urgent surgery is needed for open fractures (those that have skin open, exposing the fracture) to clean out the bone and wound and to minimize infection risks.
- Meanwhile, minor fractures or those bones that won’t move out of place can be treated without surgery using a cast, a splint, or a sling.
- The patient’s age plays an important role in treating broken elbows. Since developing elbow stiffness has a small chance on children, they normally use casts.
- Your doctor will suggest different rehabilitation techniques like scar massage, heat or ice compress, several elbow exercises, and splints to reduce the risk of elbow stiffness, to get back to your usual elbow function, and to maximize motion.