The elbow joint is a complex hinge joint that connects the upper arm bone (humerus) to the two forearm bones (radius and ulna). The bony bump at the tip of the elbow is called the olecranon, which is part of the ulna bone. The olecranon serves as the attachment site for the triceps muscle, which extends the elbow joint. The elbow joint also includes the humerus and the radius bones. The radius bone is on the thumb side of the forearm, and it connects to the elbow joint and allows for rotation of the forearm.
An elbow fracture occurs when one or more of the bones that make up the elbow joint are broken. Elbow fractures are a common injury, especially fractures of the tip of the elbow, called the olecranon. The tip of the elbow is just under the skin and has little padding with soft tissues. Elbow fractures frequently occur alone.
People of any age and gender can experience an elbow fractures, but they are particularly common in the elderly, athletes who play sports that create a risk of direct trauma to the elbow or overuse injuries. An elbow fracture is a painful and debilitating injury, but with proper treatment and rehabilitation, most individuals are able to fully recover.
Elbow fractures can occur as a result of a variety of causes, including:
- Trauma: A direct blow to the elbow, such as from a fall on an outstretched arm, a direct blow to the elbow or an auto accident.
- Overuse: Repeated stress on the elbow joint, as seen in sports that involve throwing or repetitive movements, can cause tiny fractures that accumulate over time.
- Aging: As people age, their bones become more brittle and are more easily fractured, even from minor trauma. Osteoporosis can make the elbow more susceptible to fracture.
- Certain medical conditions: Some medical conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory disorders, can weaken the bone and increase the risk of an olecranon fracture.
There are several types of elbow fractures, including:
- Radial head fractures: This type of fracture occurs when the top of the radius bone in the forearm is broken.
- Olecranon fractures: This type of fracture occurs when the bony projection of the elbow is broken.
- Humerus fractures: This type of fracture occurs when the upper arm bone is broken near the elbow joint.
The symptoms of an elbow fracture can include:
- Pain: Elbow fractures can be very painful, particularly when moving the elbow.
- Swelling: Swelling around the elbow joint is common with a fracture.
- Stiffness: After an elbow fracture, it may be difficult to move the elbow joint.
- Bruising: Bruising may appear around the elbow joint or down the forearm.
- Tenderness: Tenderness to touch.
- Numbness: Numbness in the fingers.
- Instability: A feeling of instability in the joint.
Your LALL Orthopedics + specialist will review your medical history, ask how you injured your elbow, and inquire about your symptoms. They will perform a physical exam of the elbow to check for reduced range of motion, pain, and instability. Imaging studies will be ordered including X-rays to evaluate the bones and will show a fracture. CT scans may be ordered if there’s a risk of a complex fracture; and an MRI may be ordered to evaluate the soft tissues, such as ligaments and tendons for damage. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, you orthopedic specialist will determine the most appropriate treatment plan for you.
An elbow fracture can be a painful and debilitating injury, but with proper treatment and rehabilitation, most individuals are able to fully recover. It is important to seek medical attention promptly if an elbow fracture is suspected, as early diagnosis and treatment can help ensure the best possible outcome.
Dr. Ajay C. Lall is a former dual sport NCAA collegiate athlete (football and track & field), American board certified, triple fellowship-trained expert orthopedic surgeon who specializes in diagnosing and treating elbow injuries. He treats non-athletes and athletes at all levels of play from collegiate to professional to the Olympic level. Dr. Lall is a world-renowned orthopedic surgeon who cares for all patients like family. Contact LALL Orthopedics + to schedule a consultation, receive the correct diagnosis, and undergo state-of-the-art treatment options.
At a Glance
Ajay C. Lall, MD, MS, FAAOS
- Board Certified – Orthopedic Surgery
- Triple Fellowship Trained
- Performs over 750 Surgeries Per Year
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