Dec 15, 2022
A lot of people live under the false presumption that it takes a tremendous amount of force to fracture an elbow. Sure, it sounds logical that it would have to be a noteworthy impact to shatter (or at least crack) bones in your elbow but this is not always the case. Sometimes, you won’t feel the full brunt of symptoms until the injury has cooled off, which makes any self-diagnosis quite difficult.
Here are some common signs of an elbow fracture, a few types of elbow fractures, as well as some tips for treatment. Chances are that you’re wondering whether your elbow is broken or just bruised, but even if it turns out to be a false alarm, this sort of knowledge always comes in handy.
Like with any other fracture, the five most common symptoms of a fractured elbow are:
Keep in mind that it’s possible to experience some of these symptoms even if your elbow is just bruised. Even more likely, your elbow might be sprained. For instance, even if it’s sprained, dislocated, or bruised, you’ll be unable to straighten it and the pain will accompany every movement. Still, the pain of a broken elbow is incredibly intense.
Although we’ve described the pain as intense; the truth is that even the best elbow specialists can’t determine that it’s a fracture based simply on your testimony (not with 100% certainty). In other words, the specialist needs to take a look at the X-rays of your elbow.
A lot of people are afraid of the radiation involved in the procedure but the likelihood of a limb X-ray causing harm (even in the distant future) is 1 in 1,000,000. In other words, this is both a standard procedure and a completely harmless undertaking. Only after getting an X-ray image will the doctors know if your elbow is broken.
Generally speaking, there are three major types of elbow fractures:
Remember that signs of an elbow fracture are the same across all three of these types. So, the above-listed information (regarding the types) is only relevant for those who have already been diagnosed and now want to know exactly what they’re dealing with. As a layman, any attempt to try and figure out which of the three types you’re dealing with is futile and you should head to the doctor as soon as possible.
The vast majority of broken elbows are treated non-invasively. Most fractures of the radial head require several days of protection and then motion out of the sling to help keep your elbow joint from getting stiff. Olecranon fractures and distal humerus fracture usually require surgical fixation.
Seeing as how the pain can be quite intense, pain- or anti-inflammatory medication may be prescribed, as well.
Lastly, seeing as how this is a delicate part of your extremities and it will be inactive for a while, you’ll likely be prescribed physical therapy. At the very least, you’ll get a list of exercises that you’ll have to perform, either on your own or under the supervision of a physical therapist.
In a scenario where nothing else is helpful, you might have to undergo elbow fracture surgery. While this is an extreme measure, the three most common types of surgeries performed are:
Once again, these depend on the type of injury. For instance, a total elbow replacement surgery only takes place if your elbow has suffered severe damage. Just keep in mind that surgery (and the serious injury that made it necessary) will also mean that the healing process will take longer. Speaking of which…
Again, this completely depends on the injury, as well as some subjective factors but, generally speaking, the injury should heal in 6 to 12 weeks.
During the first 3 weeks, you will likely be advised to be gentle. If there are some elbow exercises, they’ll be incredibly light. In this stage, your priority will be to learn how to handle pain and swelling and getting your motion back.
After 2-3 weeks, your exercises should become a tad more ambitious. This means that you should aim for a full movement. The key thing to pay attention to is the straightening of your elbow. How well you do in this stage will greatly determine the recovery time for a broken elbow.
After 6 to 12 weeks, if you’re lucky, the treatment has gone right, and you’ve been hard-working with your physiotherapy, you should start getting back to normal.
Recognizing signs of an elbow fracture is detrimental to being able to react in time. While the pain is intense, under the influence of adrenaline you might not feel the full brunt of the injury right away. The best piece of advice that we can give is to avoid underestimating an injury or just assuming that you’ll be able to walk it off.
Your safest course of action is to find an expert in elbow fractures at the Orthopedic Institute of New Jersey and get their opinion.
We are pleased to share with you that 11 of our doctors from the Orthopedic Institute of New Jersey have made the 2022 Jersey Choice Top Doctors honor list. We have 10 of the best orthopedic surgeons in New Jersey and one of the best rheumatologists in New Jersey. There are many ways to evaluate one’s performance within each occupation. When it comes to medical care, the jury of one’s peers is often the most respected opinion.Read more