Dr. Mark E. Pruzansky
Dr. Jason S. Pruzansky
975 Park Avenue New York, NY 10028

Broken Elbow Treatments

Introduction to Broken Elbows: Causes and Symptoms

A broken elbow, or elbow fracture, is a common injury that can occur due to various causes such as falls, sports accidents, or direct trauma to the elbow. A broken elbow involves the breaking or cracking of the bones in the elbow joint.

Symptoms of a broken elbow typically include severe pain, swelling, bruising, difficulty in moving the elbow, and tenderness. Understanding the causes, diagnosis, and treatment options is crucial for effective management and recovery.

Anatomy of the Elbow: Understanding the Injury

To better comprehend the impact of a broken elbow, it’s essential to understand the elbow’s anatomy. The elbow joint is a complex hinge joint formed by the humerus, ulna, and radius bones. Fractures can occur in any of these bones, and the specific location and severity of the fracture influence the treatment approach.

Diagnosis of a Broken Elbow: Imaging and Tests

If a broken elbow is suspected, seeking immediate medical attention is crucial. An orthopedic surgeon will conduct a thorough examination, assessing the symptoms and performing imaging tests to confirm the diagnosis and determine the extent of the fracture. X-rays, CT scans, or MRI scans may be used to obtain detailed images of the elbow.

Non-Surgical Treatments for a Broken Elbow

In many cases, non-surgical treatments can effectively manage and promote healing of broken elbows, especially for stable fractures.

Immobilization: Splints and Braces

One of the primary treatment approaches for a broken elbow is immobilization. The elbow is immobilized using a splint or brace to keep the bones in proper alignment while they heal. The duration of immobilization depends on the type and severity of the fracture, but is usually brief to minimize stiffness. A sling may be all that is recommended.

Pain Management: Medications and Therapies

To alleviate pain and discomfort associated with a broken elbow, doctors may recommend pain medications. Over-the-counter pain relievers can be effective, and in some cases, prescription medications may be necessary. Physical therapy,  heat therapy, ultrasound, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) may also be used to manage pain and promote healing.

Surgical Treatments for a Broken Elbow

In certain cases, surgery may be necessary to ensure proper alignment and healing of a broken elbow, particularly for complex or unstable fractures.

Indications for Surgery

Surgery is typically recommended when the fracture is severe, displaced, involves the joint, or when non-surgical treatments fail to achieve proper alignment. The decision for surgery depends on various factors, including the specific bones affected, the degree of displacement, and the individual patient’s needs.

Different Surgical Procedures for Elbow Fractures

Several surgical procedures may be employed to treat broken elbows, depending on the nature and complexity of the fracture. Common surgical interventions include:

  1. Open Reduction and Internal Fixation (ORIF): This procedure involves making an incision to access the fractured bones in the elbow. The surgeon then repositions the bones into their proper alignment and uses screws, plates, pins, or wires to stabilize them.
  2. External Fixation: In this technique, metal pins or wires are inserted into the bones above and below the fracture site. These pins or wires are connected to an external frame outside the body, which provides stability and aids in proper healing.
  3. Total Elbow Arthroplasty (Replacement): This surgical procedure is performed in cases where the elbow joint is severely damaged, more common in the elderly. The surgeon removes the damaged joint surfaces and replaces them with an artificial joint made of metal and plastic components.
  4. Radial Head Replacement: When the radial head (one of the bones in the forearm) is fractured, this procedure involves replacing the damaged radial head with an artificial implant to restore joint stability and function, when open reduction won’t work.
  5. Lateral Collateral Ligament Repair/Reconstruction: In cases where the elbow’s lateral collateral ligament is torn or damaged, surgical repair or reconstruction may be necessary to restore stability to the joint. This procedure involves repairing the torn ligament or using grafts to reconstruct it.
  6. Olecranon Fracture Fixation: This procedure is performed when the olecranon, the bony prominence at the back of the elbow, is fractured. The surgeon uses screws, wires, or plates to stabilize the fractured bone and promote healing.
  7. Elbow Arthroscopy: In some cases, minimally invasive elbow arthroscopy may be used to treat certain types of elbow fractures. It involves making small incisions and using a tiny camera and surgical instruments to visualize and repair the fractured bones or damaged tissues.

Again, it’s important to note that the choice of surgical procedure depends on various factors, including the specific type and severity of the elbow fracture, the patient’s age and activity level. Your HandSport orthopedic surgeon will determine the most appropriate surgical approach based on these factors and the individual patient’s needs.

Rehabilitation and Exercises for a Broken Elbow

After the initial healing phase, rehabilitation and exercises play a crucial role in restoring elbow function, strength, and mobility.

A physical therapist will work closely with the patient, developing a customized rehabilitation plan. This may include exercises to improve range of motion, strength, and flexibility of the elbow.

The therapist may also incorporate functional activities to enhance coordination and dexterity. It’s important to follow the therapist’s instructions and attend all scheduled rehabilitation sessions to achieve optimal recovery.

Tips for Speedy Recovery from an Elbow Fracture

To facilitate a speedy recovery and ensure optimal healing of a broken elbow, consider the following tips:

  1. Adhere to the recommended treatment plan provided by your doctor.
  2. Keep the elbow immobilized as instructed and avoid activities that may cause further injury.
  3. Take prescribed pain medications as directed to manage discomfort.
  4. Attend all scheduled rehabilitation sessions and diligently perform prescribed exercises as soon as prescribed.
  5. Maintain good overall health by following a balanced diet, getting adequate rest, and avoiding activities that put unnecessary strain on the elbow.

Prevention: Reducing the Risk of Elbow Injuries

While it may not be possible to prevent all elbow injuries, you can take precautions to reduce the risk:

  • Use protective gear: Wear appropriate elbow pads or guards during activities that pose a higher risk of elbow injury, such as contact sports or activities with a higher risk of falls.
  • Practice proper technique: When participating in sports or performing physical tasks, ensure you are using the correct technique to minimize the strain on your elbows.
  • Maintain a safe environment: Keep walkways clear of obstacles, maintain proper lighting, and be cautious of slippery surfaces to avoid falls that could lead to elbow injuries.
  • Take breaks and rest: If you engage in repetitive activities that strain the elbows, take regular breaks to give your elbows a chance to rest and recover.
  • Strengthen your elbows: Perform exercises that specifically target elbow strength and flexibility to help prevent injuries.

Do You Think You’ve Suffered a Broken Elbow?

In conclusion, understanding the causes, diagnosis, and treatment options for broken elbows is crucial for effective management and recovery. Non-surgical treatments, such as immobilization and pain management, are often effective, while surgical interventions may be necessary for more complex or unstable fractures. 

Rehabilitation and exercises play a vital role in restoring elbow function and strength. By taking preventive measures and practicing elbow safety techniques, you can reduce the risk of elbow injuries and maintain optimal elbow health. 

If you suspect a broken elbow, seek prompt medical attention and consult an orthopedic surgeon at HandSport Surgery Institute today for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan.