Undergoing the right treatment is critical for avoiding poor function of the elbow after a fracture. Fortunately, specialists such as Professor Roger Van Riet, are available to guide you on when surgery is the best treatment for your elbow fracture.
What causes an elbow fracture?
Elbow fractures are often caused by a fall on the outstretched hand, but direct trauma to the elbow is also possible.
What are the different types of elbow fractures?
The elbow joint has three bones:
- The radius
- The ulna
- The humerus
All three bones can fracture separately but often, more than one bone at the elbow fractures at the same time. A special type of fracture is fracture-dislocation, where there is a fracture of one or more bones combined with ligamentous injury, causing the elbow to dislocate.
What are the signs and symptoms of an elbow fracture?
The elbow is often swollen, and it will be difficult and painful to bend and straighten the elbow. Sometimes, this does not occur immediately but can occur over a period of half an hour after the fall.
In severe cases, the elbow will look distorted and it will not be possible to move the elbow at all.
How is an elbow fracture treated?
Treatment depends on the type of fracture and the displacement of the fragments. Non-displaced radial head fractures are treated conservatively (meaning without surgery) with a sling and immediate mobilization. Ulna and humerus fractures almost always require surgery.
When might surgery become necessary?
Elbow fractures and especially elbow fracture-dislocations often require surgery. The elbow is prone to stiffness and prolonged immobilisation in a plaster will lead to poor functional results.
The goal of surgery is two-fold.
- Firstly, any displaced fragments are reduced back into place.
- Secondly, fragments are fixed securely so that the elbow becomes stable again and can be moved immediately after surgery. This is important to decrease the chance of stiffness.
The elbow can become stiff even after the best surgery, but this is more common if a stable fixation is not achieved during surgery. Therefore, it’s important that the surgeon is experienced in treating these injuries to obtain the best result.