How Common Are Elbow Fractures?

Reviewed on 1/6/2023
A man visits the doctor for a fractured elbow
A broken elbow is a common injury that accounts for about 10% of all childhood fractures.

Elbow fractures (broken elbows) are common injuries in adults and children. About 10% of all childhood fractures are elbow fractures. 

There are different types of elbow fractures. 

  • Olecranon fracture
    • The olecranon is the bony tip of the elbow and part of one of the forearm bones between the elbow and wrist on the pinky finger side of the forearm (the ulna) 
    • One of the most common types of elbow fractures
  • Radial head and neck fractures
    • The radius is one of the forearm bones between the elbow and wrist on the thumb side of the forearm
    • Radial fractures commonly occur when the hands are used to break a fall as well as when the elbow becomes dislocated
  • Distal humerus fracture
    • The distal humerus connects the elbow to the shoulder joint and meets the radius and ulna to make up the upper part of the elbow joint
    • These are uncommon types of elbow fractures 

What Are Symptoms of Elbow Fractures?

Symptoms of a fractured elbow (broken elbow) may include: 

  • Pain
  • Elbow swelling
  • Elbow instability
  • Elbow deformity 
  • Elbow bruising that may extend up the arm
  • Tenderness, redness, or warmth of the elbow area
  • The sensation of tightness in the area of the elbow or forearm
  • Difficulty moving the elbow through its complete range of motion 
    • Inability to completely straighten the arm
    • Inability to touch the shoulder with the fingertips
    • Inability to rotate the hand so the palm faces the ceiling or floor
  • Numbness or decreased sensation of the forearm, hand, or fingers 
  • An open wound on the elbow after a traumatic injury 

What Causes Elbow Fractures?

Elbow fractures (broken elbows) are caused by many types of injuries such as: 

  • Trauma
    • Falls
      • Falling directly on the elbow
      • Falling on an outstretched arm
    • Motor vehicle collision
  • Overuse injuries
    • Often occurs with sports
  • Other direct injury to the wrist, hand, or shoulder can also affect the elbow

How Are Elbow Fractures Diagnosed?

Elbow fractures (broken elbows) are diagnosed with a patient history and physical examination of the arm. 

Imaging tests used to confirm an elbow fracture and to diagnose the location and extent of the injury include: 

What Is the Treatment for Elbow Fractures?

Elbow fractures (broken elbows) require medical care and treatment depends on the type of injury and its severity. 

Treatment for an elbow fracture may include: 

  • The RICE method: 
    • Rest: avoid use of the injured arm
    • Ice: to decrease pain, swelling, and redness
      • If an injury is iced immediately, it may prevent some inflammation
      • Use an ice pack or ice wrapped in a towel
      • Apply crushed ice for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, several times daily
    • Compression: to prevent inflammation
      • Use elastic wraps such as Ace bandages
      • Do not wrap too tightly
    • Elevation: propped up the affected arm to help reduce fluid buildup in the injured tissue
      • Try to raise the arm above the level of the heart
  • Splints, slings, or casts to immobilize the elbow
  • Medications for pain
  • Surgery

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Reviewed on 1/6/2023
Image source: iStock Images,of%20place%2C%20may%20require%20surgery.