Are you dealing with pain, stiffness, or swelling after undergoing trauma to your elbow? You could have an elbow fracture. The elbow is more complex than most people realize and there are actually two main types of fracture that can affect the elbow. These are olecranon and radial head fractures. Dr. Raskin at The Raskin Center for Hand, Wrist & Elbow Surgery in Manhattan, NY is a skilled Orthopedic surgeon, who has helped many patients regain the function of their elbow after severe fractures.
Olecranon fractures refer to injury to the boniest part of your elbow, also known as the funny bone, which is at the far end of the ulna. These fractures are reasonably common and usually occur as a result of a trauma, such as a fall on to the bony part of your elbow. However, the olecranon can also fracture as a result of repeated stress.
When the muscles in the arm are tired, they are unable to absorb shock as well as they usually would. This stress might then be carried by the bone instead, which eventually causes small fractures to appear. When you suffer from an olecranon fracture, you may have a crack in the bone, or the bone may break into a number of pieces.
Am I at increased risk of an olecranon fracture?
If you are involved in sports or activities that involve repeated throwing movements, you maybe more likely to suffer from an olecranon fracture.
Symptoms of an olecranon fracture
Olecranon fractures are normally very painful, and you will likely experience acute discomfort on the olecranon itself, as well as underneath the elbow. This pain may radiate outward affecting the lower and upper arms.
While some people find that the pain develops suddenly – which is usually the case in specific injury such as a fall – if the olecranon has developed a stress fracture, the pain may have appeared over time.
Treating an olecranon fracture
To recommend the best course of action for treating an olecranon fracture, Dr. Raskin must first determine the extent of the damage to the bone. This will normally involve putting you through a series of imaging tests which could include x-rays and CT and/or MRI scans. You will also undergo a physical assessment.
If you only have minor damage, you may be recommended to try some non-surgical treatment options. These may include ice therapy, physical therapy, plenty of rest, and anti-inflammatory medications. You may also be asked to wear your arm in a cast for a number of weeks. This immobilization is important if the bones are to heal correctly. Most patients who try non-surgical therapies find that their condition improves significantly in around 9 weeks.
If you have extensive damage to your olecranon, Dr, Raskin may recommend you for surgical repair. This is done under a general anesthetic and involves putting the broken pieces of bone back in position and securing them until they heal. Unsurprisingly, surgery requires rest during your recovery period.
Radial head elbow fractures
Radial head fractures get their name from the fact that they occur near the head of the radius bone. This is the bone that runs up the inside of the forearm. When we fall over, we instinctively throw our hands out to stop our head from taking the force of the trauma. However, this means that shock will travel up the forearm, and it is the most common cause of radial head fractures.
Am I at increased risk of developing a radial head fracture?
Some studies have shown that people aged 30-40 and women are more likely to develop a radial head fracture. Patients who suffer from osteoarthritis, or who play a great deal of sports, may also have an increased risk. However, radial head fractures can occur to anyone of any age at any time.
Symptoms of a radial head fracture
Some of the most common indicators of a radial head fracture include:
Severe pain at the tip of the elbow (the funny bone)
Bruising and swelling around the elbow
Stiffness or difficulty in extending the arm out
Stiffness or difficulty in using the arm/wrist
Although many cases of radial head fractures cause symptoms to appear immediately, in the case of repeated stress causing the area to weaken, the symptoms may appear over time.
Treating a radial head fracture
A high percentage of radial head fractures require surgery. However, Dr. Raskin will almost certainly recommend that you consider non-surgical treatment methods first. These may include ice therapy, complete immobilization of the elbow using a cast or sling, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and eventually physiotherapy.
Nevertheless, if non-surgical treatments prove unsuccessful, or if they do not enable the patient to achieve the level of mobility required, Dr. Raskin may speak to you about the possibility of surgery. Surgery for a radial head fracture involves realigning the fractured bone to it’s original position. You may require the use of rods, plates, and screws to ensure that the bone has its strength and function fully restored.
Dr. Raskin has extensive experience in dealing with both olecranon and radial head elbow fracture. To find out more about either of these injuries, or to arrange an appointment, please call our Manhattan, NY office today at 212-889-8600.