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How do I Treat an Elbow Fracture?

By M.R. Anglin
Updated May 17, 2024
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The elbow is the point where three bones — the humerus, the ulna, and the radius — join together. Your elbow has to allow for the up and down motion of your arm, as well as turning your arm over. Any break to one or more of these bones at the elbow comprises an elbow fracture. In order to treat an elbow fracture, you must first go to a doctor. If the bone needs to be reset, moved, or adjusted, he or she will do it for you.

When you go to a doctor’s office after obtaining an elbow fracture, he or she will examine you. During the examination, you may have to take X-rays, answer questions about your injury and how it came about, and allow the doctor to test how far you can move your arm. A clean break of the bone may only need a splint and rest. Should the bones be severely damaged or fall out of their proper positions, or if there is a need to remove pieces of the bone, surgery may be the proper treatment option. The exact treatment your doctor will prescribe will depend on your age, the type of damage you have obtained, and the position of the bones after the break.

Except with children, a cast is commonly not used to treat an elbow fracture. Even with children, the fracture is commonly treated with a splint for the first few days. A splint is like a cast except it does not completely enclose the arm. It is usually made out of plaster and allows for the arm to remain still so that the bones can heal themselves. After the arm has healed, the patient may have to undergo rehabilitation to regain strength in the arm.

Should the elbow fracture include an open fracture or should the nerves or blood vessels need repair, surgery may be the treatment your doctor chooses. Some times, the type of break necessitates the use of pins, screws or plates, in order for the arm to heal properly. Pins are commonly used in children and can be removed after the bone has healed. Screws and plates are typically used in older children and adults and can later be removed through surgery if there is discomfort.

During healing, it is important that the bones remain still. The result is an arm that does not moved for several weeks or months. In such cases, physical therapy or rehabilitation can be used to help the patient regain movement in his arm. Rehabilitation involves the use of different exercises in order to help a patient recoup as much of his former movement as possible. Your doctor should tell you what type of exercises you should do and when it is possible for you to do them.

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