The bones in the elbow joint are:
An elbow fracture is caused by trauma to the elbow bone(s). Trauma can be caused by:
Risk factors that increase your chance of fracturing your elbow include:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms, physical activity, and how the injury occurred, and will examine the injured area. Tests may include:
A test that uses radiation to take a picture of structures inside the body, especially bones. It is used to look for a break in the elbow area.
computed tomography (CT) scan
A test that uses computers to make pictures of structures inside the elbow. It is used to look at the cartilage and tendons around the elbow and at complicated joint fractures.
Treatment will depend on the severity of the injury. Treatment involves:
Devices that may be used to hold the bone in place while it heals include:
The doctor may prescribe pain medication depending on the level of pain. Your doctor will order more x-rays while the bone heals to ensure that the bones have not shifted position.
When your doctor decides you are ready, start range-of-motion and strengthening exercises. You may be referred to a physical therapist to assist you with these exercises.
Do not return to sports activity until your elbow is fully healed.
It takes about 8-10 weeks for a fractured elbow to heal.
To help prevent elbow fractures:
Since elbow fractures are nearly always results of falls or other accidents, there is not much that can be done to prevent them. However, use of proper protective equipment such as padding, is preventive.
Other helpful measures include:
The key to improving sports performance after recovering from an elbow fracture is a proper a rehabilitation program, and adhering to some of those same principles after the injury is gone.
The single most important aspect of improving performance is stretching before and after you step onto the field, court, ice or golf course.
Benefits derived from stretching include:
As an athlete, your number one concern is getting back to full strength as soon as possible so that you can return to training and competition. That is why appropriate rehabilitation is extremely important.
The major objectives of rehabilitation from an elbow fracture, once it's healed, are to improve the elasticity of the elbow joint and to gradually increase pain-free range of motion. The exercises below stretch the muscles of the forearm and upper arm. These exercises should be performed once or twice daily.
The following exercises develop strength of the muscles of the forearm and upper arm. To maintain symmetry of the arms in terms of strength and appearance, perform these strength exercises with the uninjured arm as well as the injured arm.
During the period when normal training should be avoided, alternative exercises may be used. These activities should not require any actions that create or intensify pain at the site of injury. They include:
Keep in mind that if your elbow fracture requires surgery, the soft tissue needs time to heal before exercise can begin. While in the hospital, patients start partial weight bearing with exercises to re-establish elbow joint mobility. In these cases, you would be required to wear a splint or cast for eight to ten weeks.
A physical therapy program usually begins with range-of-motion and resistive exercises, then incorporates power, aerobic and muscular endurance, flexibility, and coordination drills.
Finally, patients develop speed and agility through sport-specific exercise routines.
The ultimate goal of reconstructive elbow surgery is to provide dynamic stability while maintaining full range of motion, so that athletes can return to competitive or recreational sports. Progress is assessed by the patient's perception of how stable the elbow feels and by comparing the strength and stability of the injured and uninjured arms.
The goal of rehabilitation is to return you to your sport or activity as soon as is safely possible. If you return too soon you may worsen your injury, which could lead to permanent damage. Everyone recovers from injury at a different rate. Return to your activity is determined by how soon your elbow fracture recovers, not by how many days or weeks it has been since your injury occurred. It also depends on how serious the injury is. Instances where reconstructive surgery is required will obviously create a longer recovery period than patients with a Type I fracture.
A good rule is to allow pain to dictate when you're ready to return to activity. You should return in moderation, and back off if you feel any pain.
You may safely return to your sport or activity when the bones have fully healed and you have full strength and range of motion in the injured elbow compared to the uninjured elbow.
Some may be ready for full participation in six weeks, others not for two months or more. Of course, time for return to activity is much longer if surgery is necessary.