Treatment of Elbow Fractures

By Dr. Gregg Vagner on June 29, 2018

Digital image of radial head elbow fractureElbow fractures can occur as a result of direct trauma to the elbow or a fall on an outstretched arm. Because the pointy bone of the elbow, the olecranon, lacks protection from muscles and other soft tissues, these types of fractures can occur more easily than you think.

Elbow fractures can be quite painful and may be treated with non-surgical treatments or elbow surgery at our Austin, TX practice. Today, our team at Orthopaedic Specialists of Austin explores the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of elbow fractures.

Elbow Anatomy

The elbow joint functions much like a hinge. Not only is it important for bending the arm, it is also crucial for rotation of the forearm; for example, turning your palm up or down. The elbow joint is comprised of portions of these three bones:

  • Humerus (upper arm bone)
  • Radius (forearm bone closest to the thumb)
  • Ulna (forearm bone closest to the pinky)

These three bones are held together with muscles, ligaments, and tendons, as well as its bony architecture.

What Causes Elbow Fractures?

Fractures of the olecranon can occur for many different reasons. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Falling directly onto the elbow
  • A direct blow to the elbow (car accidents, sporting injuries, etc.)
  • Falling onto an outstretched arm

What Are the Symptoms of an Elbow Fracture?

The most common symptom of an elbow fracture is intense, sudden pain in the area. In addition, common symptoms may include:

  • Immobility of the elbow joint
  • Swelling and inflammation around the tip of the elbow
  • Numbness in one or more fingers
  • Tenderness when touched
  • Pain whenever the elbow is moved or the forearm is rotated
  • Feeling as though your elbow joint is going to “pop” out of place

Diagnosing an Elbow Fracture

During a consultation at our practice, your doctor will perform a thorough assessment of your arm and elbow. He or she will also review your medical history with you in detail and ask you to describe your symptoms. During the examination process, your doctor will:

  • Assess your skin for lacerations or cuts. In some instances, bone fragments can break through the skin and increase your risk for infection.
  • Palpate around the elbow to feel for any areas of tenderness or discomfort.
  • Check your pulse at the wrist to make sure there is adequate blood flow to your hand and fingers.
  • Determine if you can move your wrist and feel things with your fingers.
  • Take x-rays to help diagnose your condition.

Treatment of Elbow Fractures

The treatment recommended for you will be dependent on your unique situation and the severity of the fracture. At our practice, we strive to provide the most appropriate conservative treatment possible. This may include non-surgical or surgical procedures.

Non-surgical Treatments

If the bones that make up the elbow are not displaced, the fracture may be treatable using a splint. This device holds the elbow in place during the healing process. Generally, splints are worn for about six weeks. During this time, your doctor will take x-rays to monitor your progress.

Surgical Treatments

If the bones have moved out of place or if the bones have lacerated the skin, then surgery is typically necessary. This involves repositioning the bones of the elbow and holding them in place until healing is complete. Some of the most common surgical approaches include:

  • Open reduction and internal fixation: The most common surgical approach, this method involves realigning the bones and holding them in place with surgical wires, screws, pins, or plates.
  • Bone graft: If bone has been lost as a result of your injury, a bone graft will most likely be necessary to fill the voids.
  • Removal of fracture fragment: If a fractured portion of the elbow is too small to repair, then it can simply be removed.

If surgery is necessary to repair your elbow fracture, your doctor will talk through every option with you during a consultation.

Contact Us to Learn More

If you recently sustained trauma to the elbow, you could have a fracture. Schedule an appointment at our practice to explore your treatment options. Contact us online or call us at (512) 476-2830.

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