Elbow Fracture Fixation

Treat fractures / broken bones at the elbow

What is elbow fracture fixation?

Elbow fracture fixation describes the medical intervention employed to treat fractures / broken bones at the elbow. If the broken bone punctures the skin, it is called an open or compound fracture while a closed fracture consists of a broken bone that does not puncture the skin.

Fractures commonly happen because of car accidents, falls, or sports injuries. Whilst there are three main bones in the elbow; humerus, radius, and ulna, the type of fracture that manifests and the location it is found varies. Subsequently, the treatment approach varies as well.

closed open fracture
Fractures can be categorised as closed (does not puncture the skin) and open (punctures the skin).

Surgical intervention is not required to treat all fracture types such as when elbow fractures have not caused bones to move out of their original position (known as non-displaced). Immobilisation through casting or bracing are some of the conservative approaches your orthopaedist would employ for your recovery. A closed reduction technique may also be carried out where physical force is used to manually reposition the bone.

On the contrary, one would require surgical intervention if:

  • Bones are broken in several locations
  • Bone breaks through the skin (open fracture)
  • Bones have moved significantly out of place
Elbow fracture fixation
Types of elbow fractures that require surgical intervention

Elbow fractures can be excruciating and are usually hard to miss. However, given the fact that children are most prone to elbow fractures, it is important that one, particularly parents, are familiarised with symptoms to allow prompt treatment.

Some signs of an elbow fracture to look out for include:

  • Swelling almost immediately after injury
  • Stiffness of the joint
  • Bruising and discolouration
  • Numbness and tingling sensation
  • Clumsiness in the hand and inability to grip
  • Tender at the joint
  • Pain when rotating the forearm or when conducting a twisting motion
Elbow fracture children
Children are most prone to elbow fractures but may fail to communicate their degree of pain.

How does elbow fracture fixation work?

Depending on the type of fracture one has incurred, various techniques, methods, and surgical approaches may be employed. Generally, ORIF (Open Reduction Internal Fixation) procedure is used to treat elbow fractures. In the diagnostic phase, imaging tests such as x-rays or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) will help determine the exact surgical approach suitable to treat and locate the fracture.

Typically, incisions are made at the elbow followed by a visual examination of the sustained injury.

Following the assessment, your orthopaedic surgeon may employ one or more of these techniques:

  • Open reduction: involves repositioning bone pieces back into their original position.
  • Internal fixation: bones will be reconnected with screws, nails, wires, and nails to position them back into the appropriate location. This typically involves fractures where bones are fragmented.

If there are additional injuries, which were unidentified during the imaging tests, your surgeon will address them accordingly. The site of the incision is then cleaned and closed with sutures.

Benefits of elbow fracture fixation

  • Provides quick pain relief
  • Avoids malformation of the bone
  • Restores mobility
  • Recovers the ability to perform daily activities
  • Catalyzes bone healing

What conditions can elbow fracture fixation treat?

An elbow fracture fixation can be used to treat the following conditions:
  • Distal humerus fracture
  • Olecranon fracture
  • Supracondylar fractures
  • Lateral Condyle fractures
  • Radial head and neck fractures
  • Osteoporosis

What results can I expect?

Depending on the type of fracture sustained and the method employed, the surgical outcome varies. Success rate too, differs according to the exact bone in which fractures were sustained. Results are also dependent on the age and health of the patient and how quickly after injury, the treatment was administered. It could take anywhere between 3 to 6 weeks to recover. However, pain and weakness of the joint may prolong for up to a year.

Physiotherapy sessions will be arranged  by your orthopaedist and patients can anticipate faster healing provided that dedication towards their rehabilitation is practised. After surgery, medication such as painkillers, antibiotics, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) will be prescribed for a short period of time.

Your orthopaedist can give you a better idea of what to expect based on your individual needs and circumstances.

How many treatment sessions are needed?

Typically, single surgical treatment suffices. After the set recovery period, patients carry out their lives unperturbed by the injury. However, in cases such as olecranon fractures, high recurrent surgeries may be expected. Recurrent surgery may also be required to address injuries that were previously evasive,  implants have become loose over time, or more injuries are sustained.

Treatment does not end with surgery. Physiotherapy, management of medication, and follow-up monitoring is to be anticipated as a “treatment session”. Additionally, you may also require casts and braces for immobilisation.

Your orthopaedic surgeon will be able to provide you with a bespoke treatment plan, tailored to your needs and requirements.

Dr Puah KL is our Senior Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at Artisan Sports & Orthopaedic Surgery. He used to serve the sports service of Singapore General Hospital - the highest volume trauma centre for orthopaedics in Singapore.

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For emergency appointment, please call or Whatsapp us at (65) 8909 8877. We will arrange for a limousine to send you to our clinic.
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