Elbow Fractures

What is it?

The elbow is a complex structure composed of three bones. Following trauma, such as through a fall or sports, fractures can occur around the elbow in any of the bones.

Major injuries are easily identified at the Emergency Department, but small fractures can be subtle and not always identified.

What are the symptoms?

There is generally pain, swelling and bruising. In subtle cases, there may only be stiffness of the elbow and a reduction in the range of movement.

Failure to straighten the elbow after an injury is often a good sign of damage to the elbow. Focal tenderness in a specific area is another good sign of elbow damage.

Initial tests would involve X-rays to look at the elbow in multiple views. If these are unclear, a CT scan or MRI scan may be required. These are more sensitive and can spot small injuries.

what is the treatment?

The treatment of elbow fractures depends on the extent of the injury and whether the break has moved or not. 

Some fractures can be safely monitored without surgery, such as radial head fractures. Other injuries, such as olecranon or humerus fractures, may need surgery to enable earlier mobilisation to avoid long-term stiffness.

Regardless of the injury, physio during the recovery period is essential. The elbow is an unforgiving joint and prolonged lack of movements cause the soft tissues to shrink, causing long term stiffness.

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