Broken Elbow

Broken Elbow

An elbow fracture is a break in one of the bones which form the elbow joint. There are three bones which could be broken: the Humerus (upper arm bone), Ulna and Radius (two forearm bones). This elbow injury can be caused by a fall or a hard impact, and especially because there can be further potential complications, medical assistance should be sought immediately.

What is an Elbow Fracture?

A fracture is the same thing as a break, there is no difference in the type or severity of the injury and the two words are interchangeable.

There are many ways and areas in which the elbow can be fractured. Usually, it results from a fall directly onto the joint, or a hard impact. Sometimes it can happen from falling onto an outstretched hand or from a strong muscular force. The triceps muscle pulling in the Olecranon process at the back of the elbow is a common example of this.

Due to several main nerves and arteries passing very close to the bones of the elbow, complications due to damage to these structures is common. Any elbow fractured should be fully examined to check for associated injuries.

The most common elbow fractures include:

Fractures of the Coronoid Process

The coronoid process is a protrusion of bone on the Ulna, at the front end of the 'cup' in which the end of the humerus sits. This part is fractured through a fall onto a straightened elbow and is often associated with an elbow dislocation.

Symptoms include pain, tenderness and swelling over the front of the elbow joint.

Non-displaced fractures can be treated with immobilisation in a cast for 3-4 weeks. Displaced bone fragments may require surgery.

Intercondylar Fractures

An intercondylar fracture is a break to the Humerus (upper arm) bone, between the medial and lateral condyles at the lower end of the bone. Fractures here are described as being Y or T shaped and have varying degrees of displacement of the fractured bone segment. This injury is usually caused by a blow to a flexed elbow.

The patient will usually be holding their arm in a flexed position with the palm facing downwards. The forearm may appear shorter than the other one.

Treatment usually involves surgery as the fragment is usually displaced.

Condylar Fractures

The two prominent parts of the Humerus on either side of the elbow are known as the Epicondyles (or just condyles). A condylar fracture is a break to one of these bones. The outer (lateral) condyle is more likely to fracture than the inner (medial) one. Injury to both is due to impacts or falls.

The patient complains of pain, swelling and a limited range of motion, It is common to feel a crunching feeling or sound when trying to bend the elbow.

In non-displaced fractures immobilisation in a cast or splint is sufficient. If the fragment has become displaced then surgery is required.

Capitellum Fracture

The Capitellum is the rounded lower end of the Humerus, which articulates with the Radius of the forearm. Fractures to this area occur most often through a fall onto an outstretched hand. Symptoms include pain and swelling at the front of the elbow.

Most fractures are displaced and so require surgical fixation.

Golfer's Elbow

Golfer's elbow, or medial epicondylitis, is an overuse injury similar to tennis elbow (on the outside of the arm) but causing pain on the inside of the elbow instead. This elbow injury usually comes on...

Medial Elbow Ligament Sprain

The medial collateral ligament (MCL) of the elbow is situated on the inner elbow and helps to provide stability to the joint. Damage to this ligament can occur from an impact injury or from...

Triceps Tendon Inflammation

The triceps tendon at the back of the upper arm inserts into the elbow. Injury can occur to the tendon from overuse or from a sudden impact such as a fall. Tenderness and pain to the back of the...

Biceps Tendonitis

Biceps tendonitis results in pain and inflammation of the biceps tendon as it inserts into the inside of the elbow. Inner elbow pain caused by the inflamed tendon may be exacerbated by certain...