Elbow Fractures

Three bones feed into the elbow: the humerus from the upper arm, the large ulna bone from the lower arm, and the smaller radius. Trauma to the elbow during sports activity can cause a fracture in one of these bones.

Symptoms of Elbow Fractures

Intense and ongoing pain at the site of injury, especially following a major strike to the elbow. The area may swell up and can become bruised or discoloured. It might also feel tender when touched. Numbness can arise at any point below the elbow: in the fingers, the hand or forearm. You may find your arm much harder to move, particularly without causing pain, and the elbow often moves far less than usual. In some cases there is a noticeable bump or other abnormal protuberance where the fracture was sustained.

Causes of Elbow Fractures

Direct trauma to any or all of the elbow bones can result in a fracture. The most common causes of elbow trauma are direct blows to the elbow (such as from a competitor or a projectile in a high speed sport), excessively twisting the elbow beyond its range of motion, and falling accidents, either onto an outstretched arm or the elbow itself. Fast paced contact sports such as football, rugby, wrestling or hockey can increase the risk of sustaining a fracture. Those involving intricate and stressful arm movements such as gymnastics are also commonly associated with the injury.

Athletes at a greater age can have more chance of fracturing the elbow, as can those with bone problems like osteoporosis. Underdeveloped muscles are a further warning sign.

Treatment for Elbow Fractures

See your doctor, who will examine the injury and ask about its cause and your specific symptoms. They may take an x-ray or other suitable test to assess the damage. The treatment they recommend depends on the fracture's severity. The conservative approach to relatively minor fractures is immobilising the elbow (and possibly lower arm) for a period long enough to facilitate successful bone healing. This utilises a splint or cast.

The goal of surgical methods is similar. In severe cases some screws and a metal plate are positioned within the elbow during an operation. Another option, depending on the injury, is fixing pieces of the bone into the correct positions either with surgery or a procedure with you placed under anaesthesia.

During the recovery process the doctor might prescribe certain pain medication to help relieve symptoms. On average a fractured elbow heals within 8 to 10 weeks, and with the doctor's approval you can begin physical therapy which involves strengthening your arm and increasing motion in the elbow. This gradual process leads you to a stage at which it is safe to return to full activity.

Prevention of Elbow Fractures

Try to limit your exposure to elbow trauma; this can mean wearing elbow pads or suitable padding where appropriate. Maintaining healthy levels of vitamin D and calcium in your diet can improve bone strength. Regular stretching and strengthening of your muscles can help to increase balance and thus reduce the risk of falling.

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