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Broken Elbow

Broken Elbow Overview

Elbow injuries are common in both adults and children. Early recognition and treatment of an elbow injury can reduce the risk of complications and later disability. Any serious injury of the elbow deserves medical attention.

  • Your elbow is a complex joint formed by 3 bones:
    • The humerus is a single bone in your upper arm that runs from your shoulder to your elbow.
    • The radius and ulna, bones of your forearm, run from the elbow to the wrist.
    • Ligaments, muscles, and tendons maintain your elbow's stability and allow joint movement.
  • A normal elbow joint allows these motions:
    • Flexion, or bending
    • Extension, or straightening
    • Rotation, turning your palm up and down
  • Serious injuries, such as fractures (a bone break) and dislocations, can damage the bones and other structures of your elbow, resulting in problems with movement, blood vessel function, and nerve function. In children, fractures can affect the growth and development of the bones. This is because children have many bone "growth centers," a part of the bone where bone growth takes place. As bone growth continues throughout childhood, if one of these "growth centers" is involved in a fracture, it can affect bone development.
  • An elbow fracture is a break that involves 1 or more of the 3 arm bones where they work together to form the elbow joint.

Broken Elbow Causes

You can injure your elbow in a variety of ways, from overuse (athletic injuries) to an acute traumatic event (a fall or direct blow). Some common events that result in elbow fractures include:

  • When you fall backward, off a snowboard for example, you may attempt to brace the fall with your arm outstretched and your hand open.
  • High-energy trauma can occur in an automobile or motorcycle collision.
  • A direct blow on the elbow can cause a break when you fall off a skateboard or bicycle and land directly on an elbow.
  • Sideswipe injury occurs when an elbow is struck while you are resting your elbow out an open car window.
  • Any other direct injury to the elbow, wrist, hand, or shoulder can affect the elbow.

Broken Elbow Symptoms

If your elbow shows any of the following signs you may have a fracture or another injury that needs medical attention.

  • Swelling of your elbow or in the area immediately above or below your elbow
  • Deformity of your elbow, or the areas near your elbow
  • Discoloration, such as bruising or redness of your elbow
  • Difficulty moving your elbow through its complete range of motion
    • Flexion and extension: You should be able to bend your elbow so that you can touch your shoulder with your fingertips. You also should be able to fully straighten your arm.
    • Inward and outward rotation: When holding your arm at your side with your elbow flexed (bent) at 90°, you should be able to rotate your hand outward so that your palm faces the ceiling. In this same position, you should be able to rotate your hand inward so that your palm faces the floor.
  • Numbness, decreased sensation, or a cool sensation of your forearm, hand, or fingers
    • Three major nerves-the median, radial, and ulnar nerves-travel through your elbow. A serious injury may damage these nerves.
    • Many blood vessels also pass through your elbow. These important vessels may become injured or compressed when trauma or swelling occurs.
  • A cut, or open wound, on the elbow after a traumatic injury
  • Severe pain after an elbow injury
  • A "tight sensation" in the area of your elbow or forearm

WebMD Medical Reference from eMedicineHealth

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