Elbow Fracture Overview

Tip of the elbow called olecranon is a bony prominence that protrudes from ulna, one of the lower arm bones.  Olecranon is directly under the skin and very little muscles or other soft tissues are present in between the bone and the skin. Olecranon may break upon a direct blow or when you fall on a bent elbow.

Elbow Fracture Diagram

The elbow joint consists of three bones. Humerus the upper arm bone, radius one of the forearm bones on the thumb side and ulna the other forearm bone on the pinky side of the forearm are the bones meeting at the elbow joint.  End part of the humerus which is positioned inside the elbow joint is known as distal humerus. The part of the radius that comes under elbow joint is known as radial head and the part of the ulna that comes under the elbow joint is known as olecranon.

The bones inside the knee joint are shaped in such a way that the bones fit together and are held in proper positions. These bones are held together by ligaments which connect the bones together and muscles and tendons which help the movement of the bones.

Olecranon fracture is the commonest fracture that occurs in the elbow joint. This fracture usually occurs isolated. Landing directly on the elbow in a fall or getting a severe blow to the elbow can lead to an olecranon fracture. Landing on your wrist in a fall can also indirectly cause the olecranon fracture.

What are the symptoms of elbow fracture?

Intense pain, swelling and inability to straighten the elbow are the commonest symptoms of a fractured elbow. This may be accompanied by tenderness in the area, numbness in the fingers and pain and difficulty in performing functions of the elbow joint.

How is elbow fracture diagnosed?

Preliminary diagnosis is based on the examination of the elbow joint. The doctor may palpate around the area to find the areas where tenderness is felt. The doctor may ask the patient to move his fingers and to straighten the elbow. The patient may or may not be able to do these simple things. X-rays will be taken to confirm the fracture and extent of it. X-rays will help to reveal other injuries or fractures that are hidden in physical examination.

What are the non-surgical procedures of broken elbow treatment?

Some fractures in the olecranon can be cured with the help of splint and sling alone. It may take time for the fracture to join and during this period the patient will be under the observation of the doctor. The patient is not expected to lift anything using the injured hand. The joint may become stiff which can be removed through physiotherapy.

What are the surgical procedures of broken elbow treatment?

In the cases where the bones are displaced it is necessary to put the pieces together and when the fracture has cut the skin the possibility of infection is greater and surgery is carried out immediately in which the cuts are thoroughly cleaned and bones are placed in their original positions. Usually these surgeries are done under general anesthesia or regional anesthesia or under both. The incision for the surgery is generally made on the back of the elbow and the broken pieces of the bone are placed together in their appropriate places with the help of pins, wires, screws, plates etc. In the cases where pieces of bones are missing or are crushed, bone fillers taken from another part of the patient, usually from his hips or bone from a donor bone bank or calcium containing synthetic material will be used to replace the missing bone. The incisions are closed by suturing or by stapling.

What are the risk factors of surgical broken elbow treatment?

All surgical procedures have the risk factor of infection.  This is possible in olecranon surgery also. Pain during the operation is controlled by anesthesia and pain after the surgery can be minimized with the help of pain relievers. Damage to blood vessels is another probable risk factor, but it is very less in this type of surgery.

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