Elbow Fracture Fixation

What is an Elbow Fracture?

An elbow fracture, also known as an olecranon fracture, is a break in the continuity of the bone at the tip of the elbow.

Anatomy of the Elbow

The elbow joint is formed by 3 bones, 1 upper arm bone (humerus) and 2 forearm bones (the radius and the ulna). The tip of the elbow, which is part of the ulna bone, is located directly under the skin and does not have much muscle or soft tissue protection.

Causes of Elbow Fractures

Elbow fractures may be caused by:

  • Direct blow to the elbow
  • Motor vehicular accidents
  • Falling on an outstretched arm

Symptoms of Elbow Fractures

Symptoms of an elbow fracture include:

  • Sudden, severe elbow pain
  • Swelling over the tip of the elbow
  • Numbness in the fingers
  • Feeling of joint instability
  • Inability to move the elbow

Diagnosis of an Elbow Fracture

Diagnosis of an elbow fracture will be based on your signs and symptoms and a thorough physical examination. Your doctor may order X-rays to identify the fracture.

Fixation of an Elbow Fracture

If you suspect a fracture, visit your doctor or go to the nearest emergency room as soon as possible. Immediate treatment will include splinting, application of ice and pain medication to relieve symptoms. If the fractured ends are not displaced, external fixation by application of a cast or splint may be enough to treat the fracture.

When there is significant displacement of the fractured ends of the bone or protrusion of bone through the skin, open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) of the elbow fracture may be necessary. The bone fragments may have to be held in place with wires, screws, plates or nails. A cast or a splint may also be applied.

Recovery after Elbow Fracture Fixation

Following elbow fracture fixation, you will be recommended physical therapy rehabilitation to prevent the development of elbow stiffness and loss of mobility. However, you must avoid lifting heavy objects, or pushing and pulling activities with the injured arm for at least 6 weeks.

Prognosis of Elbow Fracture Fixation

The prognosis of elbow fracture fixation is good, and you can expect to return to your normal activities of daily living within 4 months of receiving treatment. Full healing and recovery of your arm strength, however, may take up to a year.

  • american orthopaedic association
  • american medical association
  • cleveland clinic
  • state university of new york