Fractured Elbow

Don’t ignore pain in your elbow if you’re suspecting it to be an elbow fracture. Here is an article for you.

What is Olecranon fracture?

This type of fracture happens in the bony point of the elbow. Just bend your elbow and you will feel its tip; it’s a prominent bone that goes from one of lower arm bone (known as ulna). This tip is known as Olecranon. It is located right under the elbow skin and it’s quite unprotected coz the around lacks enough tissues, muscle, fat or skin to cushion the bone. This bone has bright chances to break in case there is a direct impact or even if it’s a fall on a bent elbow.

What makes our Elbow?

Human elbow is a joint that is made of 3 bones. Our elbow bends is very important joint because it straightens like a hinge. Moreover, it is crucial for forearm rotation and thus it gives us the ability to turn our hands up (and enable us to do something as simple as accepting cash from a cashier) or even typing on your laptop.

  • Humerus: It is upper arm bone (right between our shoulder and elbow).
  • Radius: It is one of the forearm bones (right between our elbow and wrist). When we stand with our palm facing up, radius is one that’s on “thumb side” of our forearm (lateral side, is “outside”).
  • Ulna: It is the other forearm bone (right between our elbow and wrist, going to the radius). If you stand with your palm facing up, ulna is one that’s “pink side” of your forearm (and consequently, medial side, as “inside”).

The elbow consists of portions of all three bones:

  • 1st – Distal humerus (elbow center “hinge.”)
  • 2nd – Adial head moves around the distal humerus. It also rotates when wrist is up and down.
  • 3rd – Olecranon is the ulna part that “cups” the end of humerus and go round the end of the humerus (hinge like).

Human elbow is held together by ligaments, muscles, tendons and the shape of the bones themselves:

  • Ligaments: Elbow ligaments links one bone to the other.
  • Muscles and tendons: Muscles and tendons make the movement possible (ie. move bones around each other)
  • Shape of the bone: The way bones fit together and hold elbow together.

When an elbow structure is changed, either by fracture or ligament tear, muscles, or tendons, it obviously fails to work. It’s a very uneasy situation as the sufferer feels as if the entire elbow would pop-out on even little pressure.

Types of Elbow Fractures

There are multiple elbow fractures types of which Olcranon type fractures are most common. They although occur in isolation in most cases, however olcranon can potentially be part of a more complex elbow injuries.

Olecranon fractures happen when someone falls on elbow or when he/she is intentionally hit hard by a hard object (for example by a baseball bat in a fight or by dashboard in a car accident).

An indirect fracture on the other hand happens by landing on an outstretched arm. The person lands on the wrist with the elbow locked out straight. The triceps muscle on the back of the upper arm help “pull” the olecranon off of the ulna.

Symptoms of Olecranon fractures

  • Intense elbow pain
  • Failure in straightening elbow
  • Swelling of the injured area
  • Bruising
  • Tenderness
  • Numbness in fingers
  • Intense Pain in joint movement

Fractured Elbow Diagnosis

A patient with an Olecranon fracture in most cases requires immediate treatment because elbow movement stops and there is very uneasy pain. During diagnosis:

  • Doctor will examine skin over the injured area to check if there are any cuts (also known as  Lacerations). These Lacerations can happen by bone fragments and are dangerous because they increase infection risk.
  • Touch and feel elbow to check if there is tenderness. If yes, it is indication of elbow dislocation.
  • Doctor might check your pulse to confirm whether or not flow of blood in your arm is normal.
  • Doctor might pinch you to see if you can feel things
  • Doctor might ask you to slowly straighten your elbow. Good news if you can and bad news if you can’t

Diagnosis using X-ray

Doctor might take your elbow x-ray to confirm whether or not it’s an x-ray. X-rays are important also because they can reveal hairline fractures or dislocations which otherwise may go undetected.

Fractured Elbow Treatment

In most cases, doctor just recommends ice, analgesics or pain medicine, a splint (like a cast), and a sling to keep the elbow in position. Not every olecranon fracture requires surgery. However, when the fracture is serious, it might require surgical measures by the doctor:

Surgical Treatment

If the fracture shifts in position, the patient may require surgery to put the bones back together. Elbow fracture (olecranon) surgery is required when the entire elbow fracture is displaced beyond scope of natural healing. Since triceps muscles link to the olecranon to enable you to straighten elbow, surgery becomes important for putting pieces together.

During surgery, surgeon typically makes an incision on elbow back and puts bone pieced back together. To make these bones hold their place, surgeon might choose Pins, wires, Screws, Plates , stitches etc in the bone or tendons.

Elbow Fracture healing: Your doctor will have to closely monitor healing of your fracture with the help of regular x-rays. This is typically done for a few week and if none of the bone fragments are “out of place”, doctor might allow patient to start moving elbow.

Don’t hesitate to go for a rehabilitation treatment as complete recovery might require visits with a physical therapist.

Fractured Elbow Healing Time

The most common way of treating minor olecranon fracture might need you to put splints or casts for months. Since you stop moving your elbow, it might become very stiff and might need a longer therapy period after the cast is removed to restore arm motion.

Elbow fracture healing can take 8 weeks to even years to heal without care and correct treatment. If things go well, your doctor might allow you to lift your coffee cup with the injured arm after 4th week.

The Rehabilitation Goals

Ultimate goal of olecranon fracture  treatment is to restore full arm motion with the elbow, as it was prior before injury.