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Elbow Fractures

Throughout childhood, children often fall. Whether your child is an athlete or just playing around, injuries are a part of growing up. In most cases, falls are harmless, but there are occasions when a fall results in a serious injury. Most elbow fractures occur when a child falls on an outstretched arm with a lot of force from the fall. This impact can cause a fracture or break near the elbow.

What bones make up the elbow?

There are 3 bones that create the elbow joint. These bones, along with the ligaments, tendons and muscles allow the elbow to move like a hinge, bending and straightening. The big bone is the humerus, which makes up the upper part of the arm. The radius and the ulna are the 2 bones of the forearm (or lower arm). The radius bone runs along the side of the thumb and the ulna bone runs along the side of the small finger.

Types of elbow fractures

There are several types of elbow fractures. The most common include: 

Supracondylar Fractures
This is a break in the humerus bone, just above the elbow. This fracture is not only the most common elbow fracture in children under eight years of age, but also the most serious since it can cause problems with circulation and nerve function.

Condyle Fractures
These are breaks of the bony prominences of the elbow. The most common is a break on the outside or Lateral Condyle. These fractures often require surgery to align the joint properly.

Fracture Dislocation
A dislocation at the top of the radius bone with a fracture at the top of the ulna bone is called a Monteggia fracture. 

Olecranon Fractures
These breaks occur on the bony tip of the elbow. With little muscle or soft tissue covering the bone, it is a common fracture with direct trauma to the elbow. 

Radial Neck Fractures
This is a break of one of the forearm bones near the elbow joint. This fracture is common in children who fall on an outstretched hand. The force of the fall is transmitted from the hand, up the arm to the elbow joint.

Treatment for elbow fractures

After the Physician takes a full history, your child will be examined. There may be swelling, pain, limited movement, and bruising around the elbow. X-rays will be taken of the injured arm to evaluate what type of fracture occurred.

There are several different treatment options depending on the fracture that occurred and how severe it is. If the fracture is not displaced, a cast will be applied for a period of 3–6 weeks with periodic radiographs. If the fracture is displaced, a “reduction” will be required or the bones will need to be pushed back into place.

If successful reduction is not achieved, surgery may be required. Surgery includes placing the bones back into place in the operating room with hardware, such as pins, screws, and/or wires. Most children regain their motion 1–2 months after the cast is removed. In most cases, physical therapy is not required.