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Elbow Fracture In Children

What is an elbow fracture?

An elbow fracture is a break in one or more of the 3 bones that form your child's elbow joint. An elbow fracture is often caused by an injury. An example is a fall onto an outstretched hand with a bent elbow.

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 child's skin.

  • Salter-Harris means a bone broke through a growth plate.

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 child's healthcare provider 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 check for decreased feeling. Your child 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 child's 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 your child needs 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. Your child may be given contrast liquid to help healthcare providers see the pictures better. Tell the healthcare provider if your child has ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not let your child enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if your child has any metal in or on his body.

How is an elbow fracture treated?

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

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

What can I do to help manage my child's symptoms?

  • 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.

  • Put ice on your child's 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 child's elbow for 15 to 20 minutes every hour as directed.

  • Give your child pain medicine as directed. Your child may be given prescription pain medicine. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you give him the medicine. Your child's healthcare provider may also recommend NSAID pain medicine. These medicines are available without a doctor's order. Give these medicines as directed. NSAIDs may cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems if not taken correctly. Do not give your child aspirin unless directed by his healthcare provider.

  • Take your child to physical therapy as directed. A physical therapist can teach your child exercises to help improve movement and strength and to decrease pain.

When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • 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 condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • 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.

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