Our elbows are vital to some of the daily tasks we perform, including things like washing your face, picking up objects, or anything that requires you to turn your palm up or down. Each year, many people suffer from an elbow fracture, which is another term for a broken elbow. Elbow fractures can result from a fall, a direct blow to the elbow, or an abnormal twisting of the arm. Here are 6 signs that you may have an elbow fracture:
- Swelling and bruising of the elbow
- Extreme pain
- Stiffness in and around the elbow
- Snap or pop at the time of the injury
- Visible deformity
- Numbness or weakness in the arm, wrist and hand
If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, see a hand surgeon as soon as possible. Hand surgeons are formally trained to treat your hand, wrist AND elbow. Even if you’re still able to move your arm or elbow, you may have a broken bone, so don’t delay treatment. The longer you delay, the higher your chance of having permanent damage or stiffness in your elbow. When you visit your surgeon, he/she will likely take an x-ray or even a CT scan to determine whether you’re suffering from an elbow fracture. Depending on the type of fracture, your surgeon will then discuss a treatment plan with you. You could be suffering from a radial head and neck fracture (painful when rotating the forearm), an olecranon fracture (typically requires surgery) or a distal humerus fracture (common in children and elderly adults).
Some elbow fractures are more severe than others. If the bones have not moved and have low risk of moving, a sling, cast or splint will be used to treat the injury. If the fracture is more severe, surgery may be required. Elbow arthroscopy is a type of elbow surgery that may be used to treat and/or diagnose your elbow fracture. It involves your surgeon making a small cut with instruments the width of a pencil. Such a small cut allows patients to recover much faster than a typical surgery. After surgery, you’ll be asked to elevate your arm and will likely be placed in a splint. You may also work with a hand therapist to regain function in your elbow while you recover.
It’s important to note that you may be experiencing some of the symptoms above – specifically stiffness or loss of motion – and suffering from a condition such as arthritis rather than an elbow fracture. Arthritis in general, whether it’s in the hand, arm, elbow or another part of the body, can cause pain and stiffness and could be a result of age or simple wear and tear. Elbow stiffness that doesn’t involve a broken bone will likely be treated with the help of a hand therapist. Your hand therapist may work with you on exercises, recommend some stretches, and/or fit you with a splint.