An elbow fracture is a break in one or more of the bones that make up the elbow joint. The bones in the elbow joint are:
- Humerus — the upper arm bone
- Ulna — the larger of the forearm bones
- Radius — the smaller bone in the forearm
The Elbow Joint
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Elbow fractures are caused by trauma to the elbow bones, such as:
- Falling on an outstretched arm
- Falling directly on the elbow
- Experiencing a direct blow to the elbow
- Twisting the elbow beyond the normal range of motion
Factors that may increase your risk of getting an elbow fracture include:
- Advancing age
- Certain diseases or conditions that result in bone or mineral loss, such as abnormal or absent menstrual cycles or post- menopause
- Certain diseases and conditions that weaken bones, such as tumors or cysts
- Decreased muscle mass
- Playing certain sports, such as football, hockey, wrestling or gymnastics
Elbow fracture may cause:
- Pain (often severe)
- Tenderness, swelling and bruising around the elbow
- Numbness in fingers, hand or forearm
- Decreased range of motion
- A lump or visible deformity over the fracture site
Diagnosis & Treatment
The doctor will ask about your symptoms, physical activity and how the injury occurred.
Imaging tests may include:
- X-rays to look for a break in the elbow area
- CT scan to look at the cartilage and tendons around the elbow
Proper treatment can prevent long-term complications or problems with your elbow. Treatment depends on how serious the fracture is.
A cast, splint or sling may needed to protect, support and keep your elbow in line while it heals.
Some fractures cause pieces of bone to separate. Your doctor will need to put these pieces back into their proper place. This may be done with or without surgery.
Prescription or over-the-counter medications may help reduce inflammation and pain. Medications may include acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Rest and Recovery
Healing time varies by age and your overall health. In general, it takes up to 8-10 weeks for a fractured elbow to heal.
You will need to adjust your activities while your elbow heals, but complete rest is rarely required. Ice and elevation of your arm at rest may help with discomfort and swelling.
As you recover, your doctor may refer you to physical therapy or rehabilitation to start range-of-motion and strengthening exercises. Do not return to activities or sports until your doctor gives you permission to do so.
To help reduce your chance of getting an elbow fracture, take these steps:
- Exercise regularly to maintain strength, agility and to prevent falls.
- Learn the proper technique and wear protective equipment for exercise and sporting activities.
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Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.