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Elbow (Olecranon) Fractures

What are Olecranon Fractures?

Olecranon fractures are described as a break in the bony tip of the elbow that sticks out when you bend your arm. A fracture of the olecranon bone can be very painful and make motion of the elbow difficult or impossible. This kind of fracture is common and normally happens in isolation (with no other injuries involved).

Picture of Elbow (Olecranon) Fractures

Anatomy

The elbow joint is made up of 3 bones; the humerus (upper arm bone), the radius (forearm bone on the thumb side), and the ulna (forearm bone on the pinky side). These 3 bones are held together by muscles, ligaments, and tendons. The olecranon is the end part of the ulna that “cups” the lower end of the upper arm bone, creating a hinge for movement of the elbow.

Causes of Olecranon Fractures

Olecranon fractures may be caused by:

  • A direct hit or blow to the elbow joint
  • Falling on an outstretched arm
  • High-impact collision, such as a motor vehicle accident
  • Contact sports, such as football
  • Fall from a height

Signs and Symptoms of Olecranon Fractures

Signs and symptoms of olecranon fractures may include:

  • Instability feeling in the joint
  • Numbness in one or more fingers
  • Pain with movement of the elbow
  • Tenderness to touch
  • Swelling over the elbow
  • Bruising around the elbow

Diagnosis

Your doctor will review your medical history and discuss your symptoms. Your doctor will then perform a physical examination of your elbow to determine the extent of the injury by:

  • Checking your skin for lacerations and cuts
  • Checking your pulse at the wrist to ensure proper blood flow to the fingers and hands
  • Palpating your elbow to determine areas of tenderness as this could specify broken bones or other injuries
  • Checking how well you can move your wrist and fingers

Your doctor may also order X-rays for a detailed examination of your elbow to diagnose the type and condition of the fracture as well as to determine if you have sustained any other injuries.

Treatment for Olecranon Fractures

The management of an olecranon fracture is comprised of both non-surgical and surgical approaches. The choice of treatment depends on the type and severity of the fracture.

Non-surgical Treatment

Nonsurgical approach typically involves application of a splint (like a cast) to your elbow and placing your arm in a sling to immobilize the bones and allow healing. Splints are normally worn for 6 weeks before initiating gentle motion. Treatment also involves application of ice to the affected area to reduce swelling and pain along with medications to relieve pain.

Surgical Treatment

Severely displaced, open, or complex fractures may require open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF).

What does ORIF mean?

Open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) is a surgical technique employed for the treatment of a fracture to stabilize and heal a broken bone not amenable to non-surgical conservative treatment.

Preparation for Surgery

  • Picture of American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery
  • Picture of Arthroscopy Association of North America
  • Picture of American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
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