The elbow has an important function of controlling the movement of the arm by straightening and bending the joint at the point of articulation. Also, this is a point that facilitates forearm rotation and allows the palm to turn up and down.
An elbow fracture, also known as an olecranon fracture, can occur as a result of trauma such as a hard knock or fall. Usually, a break occurs at the elbow's tip, which forms part of the ulna, one of the bones that make up the elbow joint. The olecranon is placed beneath the elbow's skin, so without the protection of muscles and soft tissues with only a fine layer of tissue covering it, this point is more prone to injury. With an olecranon fracture, the bone can break into many pieces. These broken fragments can shift irregularly (displaced) or remain in a clear line (non-displaced). Some pieces of a broken bone may break through the skin, causing bleeding and increasing the risk of infection, in which case, treatment is recommended immediately. In order to diagnose a fracture, I will perform imaging studies like x-rays and CT scans, which will confirm whether there are any bones displaced or if any dislocations or sprains have occurred.
In some cases, a fracture may be treated with a cast or sling, which will provide support while the bones heal. I may also recommend rehabilitation treatments such as occupational therapy or physical therapy. If, however, the elbow fracture is very unstable, surgery may be required. During the procedure, I will stabilise the bones or remove fragments if necessary.
Recovery depends on the type of fracture, including its severity. So, for instance, a displaced or open fracture may take some time for the bones to heal in their usual alignment. However, applying ice, elevating the arm, and taking pain medication will give symptomatic relief faster until the bone has healed.
Apart from a physical exam of the elbow, I conduct x-ray imaging to visualise the fracture in detail. I inspect the skin with a physical exam, looking for any cuts that create an opportunity for infection. In addition, I feel the skin around the elbow, checking for tenderness.