Arm + Elbow

Fractures

Overview

Fractures can vary greatly from a stress fracture to broken bones. Symptoms of a fracture include:

  • Pain with use
  • Swelling and bruising
  • Tenderness to touch
  • Deformed or crooked appearance

If your child has a potential fracture, they should be examined by a doctor as quickly as possible. A child's bones heal quickly, and it is important that the bone receives the proper treatment before it begins to heal.

Forearm Fracture

The forearm is the part of the arm between the wrist and the elbow. It is made up of two bones: the radius and the ulna. Forearm fractures are common in childhood, accounting for more than 40% of all childhood fractures. Forearm fractures are typically caused by a fall onto an outstretched arm, a fall directly on the forearm, or a direct blow to the forearm. Some stable fractures, such as buckle fractures, may simply need the support of a cast or splint while they heal. In some cases, surgery is needed to align the bones and secure them in place.

Learn more about forearm fractures in adults.

Learn more about forearm fractures in children.

Olecranon Elbow Fracture

An olecranon fracture is a break in the bony tip of the elbow. The olecranon is positioned directly under the skin of the elbow, without much protection from muscles or other soft tissues. It can break easily if you experience a direct blow to the elbow or fall on an outstretched arm. A fracture can be very painful and make elbow motion difficult or impossible. In many cases, a simple fracture will heal well with conservative cast treatment. Some types of elbow fractures, however, including those in which the pieces of bone are significantly out of place, may require surgery.

Learn more about elbow fractures in adults.

Learn more about elbow fractures in children.

Distal Humerus Elbow Fracture

A distal humerus fracture is a break in the lower end of the upper arm bone (humerus), one of the three bones that come together to form the elbow joint. A fracture in this area can be very painful and make elbow motion difficult or impossible. Most distal humerus fractures are caused by some type of high-energy event—such as receiving a direct blow to the elbow during a car collision. In an older person who has weaker bones, however, even a minor fall may be enough to cause a fracture. Treatment for a distal humerus fracture usually involves surgery to restore the normal anatomy and motion of the elbow.

Learn more about distal humerus elbow fractures.

Radial Head Elbow Fracture

While trying to break a fall with your hands may seem instinctive, the force of the fall could travel up your forearm bones and dislocate your elbow. It also could break the smaller bone (radius) in your forearm. Fractures of the radius often occur in the part of the bone near the elbow, called the radial head. Many radial head fractures can be treated with a sling to eliminate motion. Surgery may be required for certain types of fractures with a large degree of displacement.

Learn more about radial head elbow fractures.

Olecranon Stress Fracture

Stress fractures occur when muscles become fatigued and are unable to absorb added shock. Eventually, the fatigued muscle transfers the overload of stress to the bone, causing a tiny crack called a stress fracture. The olecranon is the most common location for stress fractures in throwers. Athletes will notice aching pain over the surface of the olecranon on the underside of the elbow. This pain is worst during throwing or other strenuous activity, and occasionally occurs during rest.

Learn more about olecranon stress fractures.

Growth Plate Fracture

Because children are still growing, their bones are subject to a unique injury called a growth plate fracture. Growth plates are areas of cartilage located near the ends of bones. They are the last portion of a child's bones to harden and are particularly vulnerable to fracture. Approximately 25% of all childhood fractures are growth plate fractures. Because the growth plate helps determine the future length and shape of the mature bone, this type of fracture requires prompt attention. With proper treatment, most growth plate fractures heal without complications.

Learn more about growth plate fractures.

Diagnosis

X-rays are commonly used to determine fractures. Sometimes, the stress fracture cannot be seen on regular x-rays or will not show up for several weeks after the pain starts. Occasionally, a computed topography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) will be necessary.

Treatment Options

Treatment of fractures vary greatly depending on the force that causes the break as well as where the break is located. The pieces of bone may line up correctly (stable fracture) or be out of alignment (displaced fracture). The skin around the fracture may be intact (closed fracture) or the bone may puncture the skin (open fracture).

Most fractures can be treated with casting or splinting. Surgery may be required for certain types of fractures with open wounds, many bone fragments, or a large degree of displacement. Surgery may also be needed for fractures that have not healed properly with nonsurgical treatment. Your doctor will talk with you about the best treatment option for you and your injury.

Physical Therapy

Your doctor may recommend physical therapy to help you regain strength in your elbow or restore range of motion once the fracture has healed.

Patient Forms, Instructions, and Protocols

Cast Care Instructions

Dr. Troy Berg

Upper Extremity Fracture Post-Op Instructions

Eau Claire Area Locations

Chippewa Valley Orthopedics & Sports Medicine - Altoona

Chippewa Valley Orthopedics & Sports Medicine - Chippewa Falls

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Outreach Locations

Cumberland Memorial Hospital

Chippewa Valley Hospital

Prevea Rice Lake Health Center

Hayward Area Memorial Hospital

Ascension Our Lady of Victory Hospital

Indianhead Medical Center

Black River Memorial Hospital

Krohn Clinic

Diagnostic Radiology Associates