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Broken Elbow

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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

When to Seek Medical Care

An elbow fracture carries the risk of potentially serious and disabling complications. If you think your elbow may be fractured, you should seek medical attention at a hospital's emergency department immediately.

If you have only mild swelling, and no bruising, open wounds, or loss of feeling, you may consider calling a doctor prior to seeking emergency medical attention.

If your elbow shows any of the following problems after an injury to your arm, you should go to an emergency department.

  • You have swelling at or near the elbow.
  • You notice any deformity of the elbow or the areas near the elbow.
  • If you have any doubts, compare your injured elbow to your uninjured one. If you have a new lump or bump, go to the emergency department.
  • You hear or feel grinding, popping, or clicking as you move your elbow, wrist, or hand.
  • Your elbow "catches" at the joint.
  • Your normal elbow motion becomes limited.
  • You see any discoloration of the elbow or areas near the elbow. A bluish, purplish, or blackish color may mean you are bleeding into, or near, your elbow. A reddish color may signal infection.
  • You notice any numbness or tingling of any part of your arm, for instance, a "funny bone" feeling that doesn't go away
  • Your forearm, wrist, or fingers feels "dead" and difficult or impossible to move normally.
  • You have any significant pain in your elbow, forearm, wrist, or hand.
  • You notice any color or temperature change in your forearm, wrist, or hand.
  • Your wrist or hand is pale, cool, or bluish. You may have a blockage of blood flow in your injured elbow.
  • You are bleeding around the elbow area.
  • You should be able to easily perform the following motions without pain:
    • Fully straighten your elbow
    • Fully bend it so that your fingertips touch your shoulder
    • Turn your palm completely toward the ceiling and toward the floor
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