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ORIF of an Elbow Fracture in Children


What you need to know about open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) of an elbow fracture:

ORIF of an elbow fracture is surgery to fix a broken elbow. Open reduction means the bone is moved back into the correct position. Internal fixation means hardware (such as rods or pins) is used to hold the broken bone together while it heals.

Internal Fixation Device

How to prepare your child for ORIF:

  • Your child's surgeon will tell you how to prepare your child for surgery. He or she may tell you not to let your child eat or drink anything after midnight before surgery.
  • Tell your child's surgeon about any medicines your child is taking. He or she will tell you if your child should stop any medicine for surgery, and when to stop. He or she will tell you which medicines your child should take or not take on the day of surgery.
  • Your child may need to have blood and urine tests, and elbow x-rays.

What will happen during ORIF:

  • Your child will be given general anesthesia to keep him or her asleep and free from pain during surgery. An incision will be made on or around your child's elbow fracture. Your child's surgeon will use plates, screws, pins, or wires to put the broken pieces back together. Damaged blood vessels and nerves will also be fixed.
  • X-rays may be taken to see if the bones are in the correct position. The wound will be closed with stitches or medical tape and covered with bandages.

What will happen after ORIF:

Your child will be taken to a room to rest until he or she is fully awake. Healthcare providers will monitor him or her closely for any problems. Do not let your child get out of bed until his or her healthcare provider says it is okay. When healthcare providers see that your child is okay, he or she may be able to go home.

  • A cast or splint may be placed to help prevent movement so the bones can heal.
  • Medicines may be given to prevent or relieve pain or nausea.

Risks of ORIF for an elbow fracture:

Nerves, ligaments, and muscles may be damaged during surgery. Your child's arm, hand, or fingers may become stiff, numb, or weak. The broken elbow may not heal properly. Your child may not be able to move the elbow the way he or she did before the injury. He or she may have trouble going back to his or her usual activities.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • Your child has chest pain, a fast heartbeat, trouble breathing, or has fainted.

Seek care immediately if:

  • Your child's stitches or staples come apart.
  • Your child has more swelling in his or her fingers.
  • Your child's fingers look pale or blue, feel numb, or tingle.

Call your child's doctor or surgeon if:

  • Your child has a fever.
  • Blood soaks through your child's bandage.
  • Your child tells you his or her cast feels too tight.
  • Your child's cast or splint breaks or gets damaged.
  • You notice a smell coming from your child's cast or splint.
  • Your child's surgery area is red, swollen, or draining pus.
  • Your child's pain does not get better, even after he or she takes pain medicine.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.


  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask your child's healthcare provider how to give this medicine safely. Some prescription pain medicines contain acetaminophen. Do not give other medicines that contain acetaminophen without talking to a healthcare provider. Too much acetaminophen may cause liver damage. Prescription pain medicine may cause constipation. Ask your child's healthcare provider how to prevent or treat constipation.
  • Do not give aspirin to children under 18 years of age. Your child could develop Reye syndrome if he takes aspirin. Reye syndrome can cause life-threatening brain and liver damage. Check your child's medicine labels for aspirin, salicylates, or oil of wintergreen.
  • Give your child's medicine as directed. Contact your child's healthcare provider if you think the medicine is not working as expected. Tell him or her if your child is allergic to any medicine. Keep a current list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs your child takes. Include the amounts, and when, how, and why they are taken. Bring the list or the medicines in their containers to follow-up visits. Carry your child's medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Care for your child:

  • Limit activity. Ask your child's healthcare provider about the best activities for your child. This will depend on his or her age and usual activities. He or she will not be able to play sports until his or her healthcare provider says it is okay. Ask when your child can return to school.
  • Apply ice as directed. 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 the area for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed.
  • Elevate your child's elbow. Keep the elbow above the level of your child's heart as often as you can. This will help relieve pain and swelling. Prop your child's arm on pillows to keep it elevated comfortably.
    Elevate Arm
  • Ask when your child can bathe. When your child is allowed to bathe, cover his or her cast with 2 plastic bags. Tape the bags to his or her skin to keep the water out. Keep the cast out of the water so it does not get wet. If your child does not have a cast, carefully wash his or her wound with soap and water. Dry the area and put on new, clean bandages as directed. Change his or her bandages when they get wet or dirty.

Cast, splint, or brace care:

  • Check the skin around the cast, splint, or brace each day. Apply lotion on any red or sore areas.
  • Do not let your child push down or lean on any part of the cast, splint, or brace.
  • Do not let your child scratch the skin under the cast, splint, or brace with any sharp or pointed object.
  • Remind your child to move his or her fingers several times a day. This will help decrease stiffness and swelling.

Take your child to physical therapy, if directed:

A physical therapist can teach him or her exercises to improve movement and decrease pain. Physical therapy can also help improve strength and decrease your child's risk for loss of function.

Follow up with your child's doctor or surgeon as directed:

Your child will need to return to have the wound checked and stitches or cast removed. He or she may be given an elbow brace that allows more movement. This will help prevent elbow stiffness. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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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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