Elbow fracture

Overview

Your elbow joint is made up of bone, cartilage, ligaments and fluid. Muscles and tendons help the elbow joint move. The elbow is made up of three bones: the humerus (a bone in the upper arm) and the radius and the ulna (two bones in the forearm).

Elbow fractures typically occur in the olecranon, the pointy bone at the tip of the elbow, when the bone breaks or cracks. This is a common injury that can be an isolated incident or part of a more serious condition. If the bone breaks into pieces and those pieces become displaced within the elbow, this is known as a displaced fracture. A fracture in which bone sticks out through the skin is known as an open fracture. 

Causes and risk factors

Elbow fractures are typically caused by accidents, such as falling directly on the elbow or receiving some kind of blunt force to the joint. They often occur when someone falls on an outstretched arm with the elbow locked.

Causes and risk factors

Elbow fractures are typically caused by accidents, such as falling directly on the elbow or receiving some kind of blunt force to the joint. They often occur when someone falls on an outstretched arm with the elbow locked.

Symptoms

Elbow fractures are usually painful and cause limited range of motion. The area is usually tender to the touch, and moving it tends to cause sharp, sudden pains.

Other symptoms include:

  • Bruising and swelling at the tip or back of the elbow
  • Instability in the joint, with the feeling that the elbow may “pop out”
  • Bruising that travels up or down the arm
  • Numbness in the fingers

Treatment options

Elbow fractures can be treated with nonsurgical or surgical treatment options, depending on the severity of the fracture and other factors that affect the area. If a fracture is not displaced and only cracked, nonsurgical treatment - such as immobilizing the elbow in a splint and taking anti-inflammatories - can be used. If the fracture is displaced or open, surgery is usually required. Surgery for elbow fractures usually involves repositioning the bones and securing them in place until they heal.