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Fractured Elbow – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

What is a Fractured Elbow?

Fractured elbow is a trauma to the elbow which can affect the flexion and extension movement including pronation and rotation movement. It is a break in the continuity in the elbow that may involve one or three bones that make up the elbow. Elbow is a complex joint composed of three bones which are:

  • Ulna – one of the long bone that run parallel to the radius and is closest to the body with its location on the side of the forearm and where the little finger is.
  • Radius – one of the long bone parallel to the ulna located on lateral side of the elbow to the thumb side of the wrist.
  • Humerus – a long bone running down from the shoulder to the elbow connecting the scapula and the lower arm.

A fractured elbow will result to limited movement and functionality of individual affecting daily activities. It may also result to bone development when elbow fracture happens to children especially when the growth plate is affected by the fracture.

Elbow fracture can be defined into two classifications according to the pattern of fractures and these are:

Intra-articular pattern fractures

The fracture in intra-articular involves the radial head, proximal ulnar fractures and trochlea and capitellum fractures.

Radial head fracture

Mechanism of fracture is fall and it is the most common type of elbow fracture as well as with the associated injuries and it is characterized by pain with pronation or supination movement and point tenderness located at the radial head.

Trochlea fracture

A rare fracture associated with other injuries and requires posterior splint in non-displacement fracture while surgery is required for displacement fracture.

Capitellum fracture

Often occur in posterior elbow or radial head where mechanism is fall on outstretched hand and requires surgery for management.

Olecranon fracture

Fracture due to a direct blow or fall on outstretched hand where fracture pattern is a transverse passing through trochlear notch. Fracture of this type disabled the elbow from extension movement

Extra-articular pattern fractures

The fracture in extra-articular involves the condyle fracture, supracondylar fractures, epicondylar fractures and intracondylar fractures.

Condyle fracture

Condyle fracture consist of two types of fracture known as medial condyle fracture which is a rare type found in children and the lateral condyle fracture which is the second most common elbow fracture in pediatric.

Epicondyle fracture

Epicondyle fracture involves two types of fracture known as medial epicondyle fracture which is due to posterior elbow dislocation and is commonly found in children and lateral epicondyle fracture which is due to avulsion fracture.

Supracondylar fracture

Supracondylar fracture consists of two types of fracture with each consists of three types defining the fracture severity and location. Supracondylar is the most common elbow fracture in children rarely seen after age 15 years. The most common type of supracondylar fracture is the extension type which makes about 95% of the supracondylar fracture while the remaining 5% is made up of flexion type which is a result of flexion force.

Intracondylar fracture

Intracondylar fracture is more common in adults than in children and which is caused by mechanism of falling on flexed elbow with fractures characterized as T shape or Y shape fracture.

Fractured Elbow Symptoms

Most of the elbow fracture is caused by a direct blow or trauma to the elbow and a fall of whatever type landing on outstretched hand. Patient may experience symptoms such as:

  • Swelling of the elbow
  • Bruised and discolored
  • Elbow deformity or deformity near the elbow
  • Pain which may be unbearable
  • Decreased in range of flexion and extension or the complete movement of the elbow
  • Decreased sensation of the elbow or may experience numbness

Fractured Elbow Causes

Most cases of elbow fractures are brought by trauma to the elbow as a result of fall whether in outstretched hand or flexed elbow. Elbow fractures as defined may be due to various causes such as:

  • Fall on outstretched hand
  • Fall on flexed elbow
  • Repetitive movement
  • Avulsion injury
  • Accidents such as car or motor vehicle accidents
  • Contact sports activity

Fractured Elbow Treatment

Treating and managing fractured elbow depends on the severity, type and location of the fracture. It can be managed or treated conservatively while other type of fracture may require surgery.

Treatment and management may include:

  • Immobilization of patient is the first aim of treatment to prevent further damage and injury.
  • Open wound should be cleaned and covered to protect injury from infection to prevent further complication.
  • Elbow fracture are either put on splint or cast to immobilize the elbow while on the healing process.
  • Pain is managed by alleviating pain through oral medications or IV infusion
  • Displacement type of fracture will require surgery

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