Elbow fracture occurs from a break in one or more of the bones of the elbow joint. Three bones, the humerus, radius and ulna, make up the elbow joint. Elbow fractures may occur from trauma, resulting from various reasons; some of them being a fall on an outstretched arm, a direct blow to the elbow, or an abnormal twist to the joint beyond its functional limit.
Elbow fractures may occur from trauma resulting from a variety of reasons, some of them being a fall on an outstretched arm, a direct blow to the elbow, or an abnormal twist to the joint beyond its functional limit.
The types of elbow fractures include:
- Radial head and neck fractures: Fractures in the head portion of the radius bone are referred to as radial head and neck fractures. In these fractures pain gets worsened with the movement of the forearm. Fractures that are not displaced do not require surgery and are treated by early motion. However, surgery is indicated if it is a displaced fracture to repair and align the fragments. In severe cases the radial head is either removed or replaced./li>
- Olecranon fractures: These are the most common elbow fractures, occurring at the bony prominence of the ulna. The fractures, if stable, are treated using an immobilizing splint followed by a regimen of motion exercises. However severe fractures require surgical repair.
- Distal humerus fractures: These fractures are common in children and elderly people. Nerves and arteries in the joint may sometimes be injured in these fractures. Surgery is usually required for displaced fractures and fractures compounded by nerve and/or artery injuries.
Symptoms of an elbow fracture include pain, bruising, stiffness, swelling in and around the elbow, a popping or cracking sound, numbness or weakness in the arm, wrist and hand, and deformity of the elbow bones.
To diagnose an elbow fracture X-rays of the joint are taken. In some cases, a CT scan may be needed to view the details of the joint surface.
Conservative Treatment Options
The aim of treatment is to maximize early motion and to reduce the risk of stiffness. Nonsurgical treatment options include pain medication, ice application, the use of a splint or a sling to immobilize the elbow during the healing process and physical therapy. Surgery is indicated in displaced and open fractures to realign the bones and stabilize the joint with screws, plates, pins and wires. Strengthening exercises are recommended to improve the range of motion.
Surgery is indicated in displaced and open fractures to realign the bones and stabilize the joint as well as to avoid deep infections. Strengthening exercises, scar massage, therapy with ultrasound, heat, and ice are recommended to improve the range of motion. Splints are also used to facilitate stretching of the joint.