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Shoulder and elbow fractures

What are shoulder and elbow fractures?

Elbow fractures: Elbow fractures can occur easily if there is a direct blow to the elbow or from a fall onto an outstretched arm. Typically the olecranon (the bony tip of the elbow) will fracture from a fall onto the elbow as it has very little protection from muscles or other soft tissues. An elbow fracture can be very painful and can make it difficult or impossible to move your elbow. The bone may crack cleanly into two pieces or can break into many; it may remain in place or the pieces of bone may displace.

Shoulder fractures: Trauma to the shoulder is common and fractures normally result from a fall onto the shoulder, road traffic accident or sporting injury. The shoulder bones include the humerus (upper arm bone), scapula (shoulder blade) and clavicle (collarbone). At the upper end of the humerus is the ball-like shape that connects with the socket, called the glenoid. There are three joints in the shoulder: the glenohumeral, acromioclavicular and sternoclavicular.

What are elbow fractures?

Fractures can occur in different parts of the elbow, including:

  • Radial head and neck fractures: complex fractures like this often need surgery to repair and stabilise the fragments or to remove the radial head if it is irreparable and replace it with an implant. Pain associated with this type of fracture is worsened by turning your palm up and down.
  • Olecranon fractures: these require surgery to realign the bone fragments, which are fixed in place with pins and wires or plates and screws.
  • Fractures of the distal humerus: these are most common in children, elderly people or as a result of significant trauma and can have accompanying injuries to the nerves and arteries. They normal require surgical repair with plates and screws.

Elbow fractures

Shoulder fractures

Fractures can occur in different parts of the shoulder including:

  • Clavicle fractures: these are the most common shoulder fractures and usually occur as the result of a fall onto the shoulder.
  • Scapula fractures: these are far less common and are normally the result of a high impact trauma, such as falling from a height or a road traffic accident.
  • Proximal humerus fractures: these are fractures of the upper arm and occur most frequently in people over 65 or from significant trauma in younger adults.

A shoulder fracture may result in permanent shoulder stiffness. After the bones have healed you will be offered physiotherapy to help to improve movement in the shoulder and regain strength.

Shoulder fractures may also be accompanied by dislocations of any of the three shoulder joints and/or soft tissue injuries such as rotator cuff tears.

Shoulder and elbow consultants

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