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Broken Elbow

Exams and Tests

The doctor may perform the following procedures in evaluating your broken elbow:

  • The doctor will generally want to know your overall health history. Some of the questions will ask for this information:
    • Your age
    • Your handedness (Are you right-handed or left-handed?)
    • Your profession
    • Your level of activity (Are you an athlete or a desk worker?)
    • The surgeries and injuries you have had, particularly on your elbow or your hand
    • The medical illnesses or conditions you have had (Illnesses or medical conditions that may affect bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles, nerves, and blood vessels are very important. Problems you have had with bleeding or healing are important also.)
    • The medical illnesses or conditions you now have
    • The medications you take
    • The medication allergies you have
    • The social habits you have (whether you smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol)
  • The doctor also will ask specific questions about your injury.
    • What caused your injury? For example, did you fall or did something hit your elbow? If you fell, was it onto your hand or directly onto your elbow?
    • When did the injury occur?
    • When did your symptoms begin?
    • What symptoms have you noticed? For example, have you had pain, or pain and swelling, or swelling and discoloration?
  • The doctor will perform a limited physical examination, paying particular attention to your injured arm.
    • The doctor will probably check your heart, lungs, and abdomen.
    • The doctor may also check your head, neck, back, and uninjured arms and legs. Most of this examination is to make sure that no other, more serious, injuries or conditions exist. Sometimes people in a great deal of pain from a broken elbow do not even notice that they have other injuries.
  • The doctor may order basic x-rays. Depending on your unique health history and your treatment needs, the doctor may order additional laboratory tests or specialized x-rays.
    • Sometimes elbow injuries cause so much pain that a full examination is impossible. If this is the case, the doctor first may choose to look at your elbow without moving it or touching it.
    • The doctor may examine your hand and wrist to make sure that blood vessels and nerves are working properly.
    • The doctor then may decide to treat your pain and get some x-rays. Often after pain is relieved (by splinting or giving pain medications), a more complete and reliable examination is possible.
    • Basic elbow x-rays are taken from the front and side. Additional x-rays, taken at 2 different angles, also are routine.
    • In children, the doctor may take x-rays of the other, uninjured, elbow. Children's elbows are not completely formed of bone. Growing cartilage, which later forms bone, may be mistaken for a broken bone. Comparing x-rays of injured and uninjured elbows may help the doctor make a correct diagnos
    • Other images that are like x-rays-ultrasound, CT scan, and MRI-may provide a more complete look at the injured elbow. It is unusual, but not unheard of, for these tests to be done in the emergency department.
  • Laboratory tests generally aren't needed for people with broken elbows. If you are taking certain medications, have certain health conditions, or require an operation to repair your broken elbow, then, lab tests may be done.
  • If your doctor is concerned that the artery that runs by the elbow has been cut, an arteriogram may be recommended.
    • In this test, the doctor puts dye into the artery to see if it is damaged.
    • A damaged artery may need to be surgically repaired because it supplies all the blood to the wrist and hand.

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