Elbow Fracture In Children

What is an elbow fracture?

An elbow fracture is a break in one or more of the bones that form your child's elbow joint. Your child's elbow joint is made up of 3 bones: humerus, radius, and ulna. Your child may also have a Salter-Harris fracture, which is when a bone breaks through a growth plate.

What causes an elbow fracture?

A fall onto an outstretched hand may cause an elbow fracture. It may also happen if your child falls directly on a bent elbow. Your child's elbow may be broken during sports. A bad twist of the elbow and overuse of the elbow may also lead to fractures.

What are the types of elbow fracture?

  • Nondisplaced: A fracture is nondisplaced when the bone cracks or breaks but stays in place.

  • Displaced: A fracture is displaced when the 2 ends of the broken bone are separated.

  • Comminuted: A fracture is comminuted when the bone cracks or breaks into many pieces.

  • Open fracture: An open fracture occurs when the broken bone breaks through your child's skin.

What are the signs and symptoms of an elbow fracture?

  • Pain and tenderness

  • Swelling and bruising

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

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

  • Deformity (the arm is shaped differently than normal)

How is an elbow fracture diagnosed?

Your caregiver will check the skin over your child's injured elbow and arm for any skin breaks. He may touch areas of your child's arm to see if your child has decreased feeling. Your child's caregiver may put a shot of numbing medicine into your child's injured elbow joint before he checks the movement. Your child may need any of the following:

  • X-rays: These pictures of your child's elbow are used to check for broken bones.

  • CT scan: This test is also called a CT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your child's elbow joint and arm. The pictures may show where the bone is broken. Your child may be given a dye before the pictures are taken to help caregivers see the pictures better. Tell the caregiver if your child has ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.

  • MRI: This scan uses powerful magnets and a computer to take pictures of your child's elbow joint and arm. An MRI may show where the bone is broken and if other tissues are involved. Your child may be given dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell the caregiver if your child has ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the caregiver if your child has any metal in or on his body.

How is an elbow fracture treated?

Your child may need any of the following:

  • Devices: A splint or cast with a sling may be put on your child's elbow and arm. These devices hold the broken bones in place while they heal. They may help decrease pain and prevent more damage to the broken bones.

  • Medicines:

    • Pain medicine: Your child may be given a prescription medicine to decrease his pain. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you give your child his medicine.

    • Antibiotics: This medicine helps fight or prevent an infection caused by bacteria. Give them to your child as directed.

    • Tetanus shot: Your child may need a tetanus shot if he has breaks in his skin from the injury. A tetanus shot is medicine to prevent your child from getting tetanus. Tetanus is a serious infection that can happen after any break in the skin. The shot is normally given into the arm.

  • Surgery: Your child may need surgery if his bones are out of place. Surgery helps return bones to their normal position by putting them together with pins, wires, or screws. Surgery may also be done if your child has other injuries, such as nerve or blood vessel damage. Ask your child's caregiver for more information about surgery to treat your child's elbow fracture.

What can I do to help my child's elbow fracture heal?

  • Elevate your child's elbow: Use pillows to keep your child's elbow raised above the level of his heart as often as you can. This helps decrease swelling and pain. Elevation can also help the injury heal faster. While your child's elbow is elevated, have him wiggle his fingers and open and close them to prevent hand stiffness.

  • Use ice: 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 child's elbow for 15 to 20 minutes every hour as directed.

  • Physical therapy: A physical therapist can teach your child exercises to help improve movement and strength and to decrease pain.

What are the risks of an elbow fracture?

Your child may get an infection or bleed more than expected during surgery. Even after treatment, your child's elbow may not go back to the way it was before it was injured. Your child may have trouble doing his usual activities again, including sports. Without treatment, the injured elbow may not heal correctly. This may limit how much your child can use his arm.

When should I contact my child's caregiver?

Contact your child's caregiver if:

  • Your child has a fever.

  • Your child's pain gets worse, even after he rests and takes pain medicine.

  • Your child has new or worse trouble moving his arm.

  • Your child has new sores around the area of his brace or splint.

  • Your child's brace or splint becomes damaged.

  • You have questions or concerns about your child's injury, treatment, or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • Your child's elbow, arm, or fingers are numb.

  • Your child's skin is swollen, cold, or pale.

  • Your child has open skin areas on his elbow and arm that will not stop bleeding.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's caregivers to decide what care you want for your child. 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.

© 2014 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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