Because it affects a joint rather than a single bone, an elbow fracture can present a complicated problem in terms of the damage to the bones and surrounding soft tissues. Dr. Gregg A. Vagner is an orthopedic surgeon in Austin, TX, with over a decade of experience fixing bone fractures through both surgical and nonsurgical treatments.
What is an Elbow Fracture?
Technically speaking, you cannot break a joint. Rather, an elbow fracture affects any of the three bones that fit together to form the joint: the humerus (upper arm bone), ulna (forearm bone on the pinky side of the arm), or the radius (forearm bone on the thumb side of the arm). While some breaks are simply cracks, others are severe enough to displace large sections of bone.
The Different Types of Elbow Fractures
Fractures are usually classified by the location:
- Olecranon fractures: These breaks affect the ulna, the bone on the outside of your forearm. Its far end, the olecranon, forms the pointed tip on your outer elbow when you bend your arm. Because this end of the bone is not protected by soft tissue, it is easily broken during a fall.
- Radial head fractures: The most common type of elbow fracture, this break usually occurs at the end of the radius, the bone on the inside of your forearm. This bone often breaks when you catch a fall on an outstretched arm and can make it difficult or impossible to rotate your arm.
- Distal humerus fractures are located on the bottom of your humerus, the bone in your upper arm. Because they usually only occur if you fall on a bent or completely straight elbow, they are much less common than the other types of elbow fractures. The most obvious sign of this fracture is a looseness or unsteadiness in the joint when putting weight on the arm.
The type and severity of the break will determine the most appropriate course of treatment.
Treatment Options for Your Fractured Elbow
Dr. Vagner will first carefully examine your elbow and the location of the fracture. Whenever possible, he will treat your broken bone with a non-invasive option. Immobilization with a cast, splint, or sling is one of the simplest and most effective solutions. This protocol will give your arm a chance to rest so that the pieces of bone can knit together.
Immobilization using a cast, splint, or sling is one of the simplest and most effective solutions.
If your fracture is severe or if a bone is displaced, the doctor may recommend surgery, instead. During an open reduction and fixation procedure, Dr. Vagner will create an incision in your arm to access the bone and place metal screws or plates to fix the pieces back in their proper positions. Occasionally, your joint may be too damaged for repair. In these rare cases, Dr. Vagner can perform joint replacement, if needed.
Whether your initial treatment is surgical or non-surgical, it is important to work with an experienced physical therapist afterward to prevent muscle atrophy. Even before your cast comes off or you have recovered from surgery, physical therapy can strengthen your muscles and help you regain the full range of motion in your arm.
Realign Your Elbow
If you have sustained an elbow fracture, the right treatment can protect your long-term outlook and physical abilities. Contact our office online to book an appointment with Dr. Vagner or call us at (512) 476-2830.
"I am committed to using experience, along with the latest techniques and technologies, to help my patients achieve the full function, mobility, and comfort in their hand, wrist, and arm that they experienced prior to their injury."Dr. Gregg Vagner