All of us grow up with injuries right from childhood. A broken elbow is a common injury both amongst children and adults. This article talks about some of its most obvious causes, symptoms observed, and treatment options.
We must have all experienced elbow injuries at some point or the other in our lives. Some incidents tend to make us laugh and bring back fond memories, while a few others remind us of the awful pain experienced. Basically, the elbow connects the lower and upper arm and is a complex joint made up of three bones, namely: the humerus, radius, and ulna.
The humerus is a bone that runs through the shoulder in the upper arm, where it connects to the two bones of the lower arm, i.e., the radius and ulna. This joint gains movement and stability due to the muscles, ligaments, and tendons. The major functions of movement, like bending, straightening, extension, rotation, and moving the palm upwards and downwards are facilitated by the elbow.
Any serious injury or fracture in this complex joint results in a broken elbow. This damage can result in poor functioning of the blood vessels and nerves. If the elbow is fractured during the growing years, i.e., in childhood, it may also affect the growth and development of the bones. The reason being, children have more of what is called ‘growth centers’ in the bone, so any injury in these growth centers can hamper the growth of the bone.
Mentioned below are some of the most obvious causes of a broken or injured elbow.
☛ Any mishap, like an accident, collision or a sudden fall can cause the elbow to fracture.
☛ A conflict in the movement of the elbow against anything can also cause a fracture or major injury.
☛ Sometimes, even a linear blow or an injury to the hand, wrist, or shoulder can result in elbow injuries.
Please note that the intensity of the symptoms will differ depending on the kind of injury or fracture.
• Intense pain and swelling in and around the elbow, immediately after an injury, is the most common symptom.
• Bruising and discoloration of the elbow.
• Difficulty in moving the elbow. Generally, one should be able to bend the elbow, straighten it fully, and rotate the palms inward and outward. Difficulty refers to the inability to execute any of the above-mentioned movements.
• The area around the elbow becomes tender to touch, and one experiences immense pain even with the slightest movement of the joint.
• A cooling sensation or numbness in the forearms, hands, or fingers.
• Any open injury, like a cut or wound after a major accident or mishap. A cramped or tight feeling/sensation in the forearm or elbow after an injury.
The treatment depends on factors like, the amount of displacement of the fracture, location/area, age, and severity of the injury or fracture. Let us look at some treatment options that will help in the recovery along with some tips to bear in mind. Remember that if you have a serious injury/fracture, do not wait for it to heal at home. Always rush for medical help. The following suggestions will not heal the injury but help in decreasing the severity of the fracture to a certain extent and prevent it from getting worse, till you receive professional medical assistance.
✔ Immediately after the injury, use an ice pack to decrease the inflammation and also reduce the pain of the swelling. You can also use a cold compress on the area of fracture or injury. Make sure you do not use the ice pack for more than 20 minutes, as this may cause a frostbite.
✔ Cover the wound if the injured elbow is bruised and bleeding. Use a clean bandage. In case of heavy bleeding, put some pressure on the wound to curb bleeding. However, do not do this if the bone is dislocated and protruding.
✔ If the bone is broken, do not even try to straighten it. Also, do not try to push a broken bone if it is protruding out of the skin. This can worsen the damage.
✔ Try to keep the fracture as steady as possible. Use a homemade splint by hanging a piece of cloth around the neck or use pillows to support the arm and elbow.
✔ You can opt for anti-inflammatory medicines to reduce pain and swelling.
Once at the doctor, a proper diagnosis of the fracture or injury is done with the help of an X-ray, which will decide the nature of the treatment. Usually, children and adults have varying fractures and different healing times. So, the treatment and time of recovery in children and adults is usually not the same.
There are two major types of treatments, i.e., splinting or cast and surgery. Some fractures (mostly of the ulna) heal by immobilizing the joint with the help of a splint, sling, or cast. In case of major fractures and displacements, a surgery may be required. Also, if a bone is protruding from the skin, a thorough cleaning of the skin is required for an effective recovery. Options like pins, stitches, screws, or plates may also be used to fix the bone together followed by the usage of a cast or splint.
Post Treatment Tips
♦ After proper diagnosis and treatment, the doctor may advise certain exercises to speed up the recovery. Physical therapy may also be advised.
♦ The use of antibiotics may be necessary for reducing the infection. Do not return to a rigorous routine until the elbow heals completely.
The normal recovery time is between 8 – 10 weeks. However, it may vary depending on the intensity of fracture/injury. Always take good care of your bones, since ‘prevention is better than cure’. Avoid any trauma or injury to the elbow, follow a diet rich in vitamin D and calcium, and exercise regularly to build an agile body. Never try to cut short a broken elbow recovery period. Patience and proper care will bear sweet fruits. Take care!
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.