Fractures and dislocations - Elbow Injuries

The elbow joint is composed of 3 bones, the humerus, the radius and the ulnar. Although the elbow is one of the strongest and most stable joints in the body, it is the second most common type of dislocation amongst adults, coming second only to the shoulder joint and the most commonly dislocated joint in children.

What is a fracture?

A fracture occurs when a portion of bone is partially or completely broken. Elbow fractures are categorised as distal, humeral, radial or ulnar.

What is a dislocation?

A dislocation occurs when the joint becomes displaced. Elbow dislocations are identified as simple or complex. A simple dislocation does not involve any damage to the surrounding bones, while a complex dislocation will often involve damage to the bones and the connective tissue surrounding the joint.

Causes of fractures and dislocations of the elbow

The most common causes of these injuries are car accidents, contact with falls and sporting injuries; the most common cause of a dislocation is falling onto a hand that is stretched out; this forces the pressure to radiate up the arm to the elbow joint.

Symptoms of fractures and dislocations

Complete dislocations are often obvious as the elbow will appear physically deformed; however, partial dislocations (also known as subluxations) are much harder to identify. There will often be localised pain around the joint and movement may be restricted; inflammation may also occur. An x-ray will be used to determine the extent and nature of the injury.

Treatment for fractures and dislocations

Fractures will usually be treated by immobilising and resting the joint; medication may also be prescribed to reduce swelling and manage pain. Dislocations should be treated as quickly as possible; the elbow should be returned to its original position as early as possible; this will almost always involve hospital treatment. Simple dislocations will heal fairly quickly if the elbow is immobilised and rested sufficiently. Complex dislocations will take longer to heal and may require surgical treatment to re-align the damaged bones. Once the healing process in underway, physiotherapy may help to gradually increase strength in the area and improve the range of movement surrounding the joint.

Long-term effects of dislocations

Although most people recover fully, some people may experience a restricted range of movement around the elbow joint for a prolonged period of time after an accident; in some cases patients will never regain a total range of movement.

Elbow Injuries Guide Index:

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