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Elbow Fracture

Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 2, 2022.

What is an elbow fracture?

An elbow fracture is a break in one or more of the 3 bones that form your elbow joint. Osteoporosis (brittle bones) can increase your risk for an elbow fracture.

Adult 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 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 examine your injured elbow and arm. Your provider may check for areas where you have less feeling or problems moving your arm. You 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. 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?

  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask your healthcare provider how to take this medicine safely. Some prescription pain medicines contain acetaminophen. Do not take other medicines that contain acetaminophen without talking to your healthcare provider. Too much acetaminophen may cause liver damage. Prescription pain medicine may cause constipation. Ask your healthcare provider how to prevent or treat constipation.
  • 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 you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • 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 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.

  • Apply ice on your elbow on your elbow for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.
  • 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 seek immediate care?

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

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have a fever.
  • The pain gets worse, even after you rest and take your pain medicine.
  • You have new or more trouble moving your arm.
  • You have new sores around the area of your brace, splint, or cast.
  • Your brace, splint, or cast becomes damaged.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

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 healthcare providers 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.

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