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Elbow Fractures

What is an Elbow Fracture?

There are three bones that make up the elbow joint. These bones can be broken (fractured) by a fall onto the elbow or during an elbow dislocation. If there is a fracture of one of these bones and the cartilage lined joint surface is damaged, it may lead to elbow arthritis if not properly managed.

Types of Elbow Fractures

Olecranon fractures

The olecranon is the bone that forms the “point” of the elbow. The triceps tendon that helps to straighten the elbow is attached to the olecranon. If a fracture of the olecranon has moved out of position (displaced) then this can result in problems with elbow strength, as well as potential arthritis. 

Radial head fractures

The disc-shaped radial head allows the forearm to turn the hand to face the roof or the floor. Fractures of the radial head that have displaced can make it difficult to move the elbow this way. Radial head fractures can often occur as part of an elbow dislocation, meaning the ligaments around the elbow are also damaged. If these ligament injuries are not identified and properly managed at the same time it can lead to elbow instability.  

Distal humerus fractures

The distal humerus is the bone that forms the upper half of the elbow joint. Fractures of this bone that involve the joint surface can lead to problems with bending and straightening the elbow. This may be due to the displaced fracture fragments blocking movement, or, later on, due to the development of arthritis as a result of the damaged joint surfaces. 

Treatment of Elbow Fractures

The treatment of all elbow fractures is aimed around moving the elbow as soon as possible to reduce the change of elbow stiffness (loss of normal movement). Many elbow fractures do not require surgery and usually only require a sling. However, if the fractured bone ends are separated (displaced) or there has been a concurrent injury, such as a dislocation, then elbow fracture fixation surgery may be required.