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Elbow Fracture in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jun 6, 2023.

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.

Child Arm Bones

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 the arm or not being able to move the 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 examine your child's injured elbow and arm. The provider may check for areas where your child has less feeling or problems moving his or her arm. Your child may need any of the following:

  • X-rays are used to check for broken bones.
  • 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 or her body.

How is an elbow fracture treated?

  • Prescription pain medicine may be given to your child. Ask how to give your child this medicine safely.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If your child takes blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for him or her. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children younger than 6 months without direction from a healthcare provider.
  • 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 above the level of his or her heart as often as you can. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop your child's elbow on pillows or blankets to keep it elevated comfortably. Have your child wiggle his or her fingers and open and close them to prevent hand stiffness.
    Elevate Arm
  • Apply ice on your child's elbow for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover the bag with a towel before you put it on your child's elbow. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.
  • 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 seek immediate care?

  • Your child's elbow, arm, or fingers are numb.
  • Your child's skin is swollen, cold, or pale.

When should I call my child's doctor?

  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child's pain gets worse, even after he or she rests and takes pain medicine.
  • Your child has new or increased trouble moving his or her arm.
  • Your child has new sores around the area of his or her splint or cast.
  • Your child's cast or splint becomes damaged.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

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 healthcare providers 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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