We’ve all heard the term “I hit my funny bone” – but the humerus, ulna, and radius (the arm’s main structures) can all be susceptible to major injuries if they aren’t well-protected. It’s really no laughing matter. Elbow fractures can arise in a variety of ways; however, all incidences fall into two main categories – acute trauma, such as taking a hard tumble at the skate park or skiing on the slopes, or overuse injuries from sports or years of wear and tear.
The bony tip of the elbow is a segment of the ulna, the forearm bone, on the pinky side of our arms. Unlike many other bones, the olecranon is largely exposed due to a limited amount of skin and soft tissue to cushion it from the outside. There are many levels of elbow fractures; in severe cases, such as that of a car accident, an open fracture may occur in which bone is exposed. Should you experience a direct blow or blunt trauma to the elbow, pieces of the bone may break into shards, which is known as a displaced fracture.
Falling backward with the use of outstretched arms to “break” your fall, extreme trauma resulting from a car crash or collision, or a direct blow to the bone are all commonly cited reasons for elbow fracture. Twenty percent of all elbow fractures target the radial head – a portion of the smaller of the two forearm bones that resides just below the elbow. Reflex responses such as blinking, sneezing, screaming when we are frightened, and putting out are hands when we fall, are all instincts woven into the fabric of our DNA. We don’t necessarily even think when we act out these behaviors, as they’re second nature to us. But, catching our fall with outstretched arms can cost us greatly if we land the wrong way.
Elbow fractures often also affect children, and are not an injury to be taken lightly. Bumps, bruises, and scratches are a playground norm, but swelling and pain that don’t subside with at-home treatments can be cause for concern, and a precursor to deformity, arthritis, and a lifetime of stiffness in the future. Certain joint injuries can be quite serious for children, as growth and healing can be disrupted if the injury is not treated properly.
Should you suffer from an elbow fracture, you’ll likely experience pain, swelling, bruising, and tenderness for up to two weeks. Reach out to your doctor, or a hand and shoulder specialist as soon as possible. They will conduct a physical examination to determine if you have cuts, lacerations, a steady pulse via the arm, and observe your level of movement in the fingers and wrist. They may ask questions about your health history to determine the ideal course of treatment.
Don’t attempt to self-diagnose or self-treat an elbow fracture, as prolonging professional care can make matters worse. There are, however, some split-second first aid tips to remember when an injury first occurs. Covering an open wound with a clean bandage, as well as applying firm pressure and elevation can help. Using a cold compress may mitigate some inflammation and pain. Send for emergency help as soon as possible, and never try to push a bone back into place yourself – leave the heavy lifting to the experts.
Grinding, clicking sounds, swelling near the elbow, lumps or bumps, dark bruising, and numbness in the fingers, wrist, or hand, are all indicators that medical treatment is needed. You should be able to straighten and bend your elbow; if you can’t complete this motion without pain (or at all), something is amiss. An X-Ray will be beneficial for pinpointing the location of the fracture, as well as determining the severity of the damage. If you do not have a displaced fracture, meaning that bones are in place, a splint may be used for up to six weeks to isolate the elbow during your recuperation process. Any activities that bend or turn the arm and hand will be a setback for your recovery. Docs normally steer clear of casts – which can constrict nerves and blood vessels in this region.
If your pain is mild, oral anti-inflammatory medications may be sufficient; intravenous (IV) medicine may be administered at the site of pain in moderate to severe cases. Have an orthopaedic specialist trained in sub-specialties of the hand, arm, and shoulder take a look at your injury. If bone fragments have been dislodged, closed reduction, or percutaneous pinning can be employed to keep these articles in place. For bones that are damaged beyond repair, your doctor may recommend open surgery, which can include the replacement of damaged bones with metal prosthetics. Physical therapy is another key element of the recovery process and will be essential to regaining full range of motion following your surgical procedure.
From Arthroscopic elbow surgery to elbow joint replacement, the team at Greater Chesapeake Hand to Shoulder offers a wide range of non-surgical, minimally invasive, and surgical treatments to help you live a better quality of life. It’s time to give elbow pain the cold shoulder; call 410-296-6232 to schedule an appointment today.