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Elbow Fracture In Adults

What is an elbow fracture?

An elbow fracture is a break in one or more of the 3 bones that form your elbow joint. An elbow fracture is often caused by an injury. An example is a fall onto an outstretched hand with a bent elbow. Osteoporosis (brittle bones) can increase your risk for an elbow fracture.

What are the types of elbow fracture?

  • Nondisplaced means the bone cracked or broke but stayed in place.

  • Displaced means the 2 ends of the broken bone separated.

  • Comminuted means the bone cracked or broke into many pieces.

  • Open means the broken bone went through your skin.

What are the signs and symptoms of an elbow fracture?

  • Pain and tenderness

  • Swelling and bruising

  • Trouble moving your arm or not being able to move your arm at all

  • Weakness or numbness in your elbow, arm, or hand

  • Deformity (your arm is shaped differently than normal)

How is an elbow fracture diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will check the skin over your injured elbow and arm for any skin breaks. He may touch areas of your arm to see if you have decreased feeling. He may also check for any problems with your arm movements. You may need any of the following:

  • X-rays are used to check for broken bones. If a break is not found on the x-ray, your healthcare provider may look for the fat pad sign. Fat is normally located within the elbow. It is not seen on an x-ray unless an injury pushes it out of place. The fat pad sign may mean you need x-rays from several angles to find the fracture.

  • A CT scan or MRI may show where the bone is broken and if other tissues are involved. You may be given contrast liquid to help healthcare providers see the bones better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is an elbow fracture treated?

  • A device such as a brace, cast, sling, or splint may be put on your elbow to limit your arm movement. The device will hold the broken bones in place while they heal, help decrease pain, and prevent more damage.

  • Ultrasound therapy directs sound waves into your elbow. The sound waves help the bones heal.

  • Surgery may be needed to hold bones in their normal position with pins, wires, or screws. Surgery may also be done if you have other injuries, such as nerve or blood vessel damage.

What can I do to manage my symptoms?

  • Elevate your elbow. Raise your elbow above the level of your heart as often as you can. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop your elbow on pillows or blankets to keep it elevated comfortably. While your elbow is elevated, wiggle your fingers and open and close them to prevent hand stiffness.

  • Put ice on your elbow. Ice helps decrease swelling and pain. Ice may also help prevent tissue damage. Use an ice pack or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel and place it on your elbow for 15 to 20 minutes every hour as directed.

  • Take pain medicine as directed. You may be given prescription pain medicine. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take your medicine. Your healthcare provider may also recommend NSAID pain medicine. These medicines are available without a doctor's order. Take as directed. NSAIDs may cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems if not taken correctly.

  • Go to physical therapy as directed. A physical therapist can teach you exercises to help improve movement and strength and to decrease pain.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.

  • The pain gets worse, even after you rest and take your pain medicine.

  • You have new or worse trouble moving your arm.

  • You have new sores around the area of your brace or splint.

  • Your brace or splint becomes damaged.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • Your elbow, arm, or fingers are numb.

  • Your skin is swollen, cold, or pale.

  • You have open skin areas on your elbow and arm that will not stop bleeding.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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