Elbow fractures can occur due to falls, twisting injuries or blunt force trauma. Elbow fractures can be addressed with surgical or non-surgical treatments, depending on the severity of the break.
An elbow fracture is a fracture at the tip of the elbow. This can happen as a result of trauma such as a direct blow, falling on the elbow or falling on an outstretched hand.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
There are three main types of elbow fractures. These include:
Elbow fractures are quite common, especially among children. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 10% of all bone fractures affecting children are elbow fractures.
A fractured elbow may be the result of trauma, such as an accident or sports injury. This type of fracture also occurs when a person tries to break a fall on an outstretched arm.
While some elbow fractures cause intense, sudden pain and visible deformity, others may exhibit more subtle symptoms. Common fractured elbow symptoms include:
In some cases, a fractured elbow is visibly deformed. This means that the elbow is dislocated or that bones are out of place. However, not all elbow fractures result in visible deformity.
If there’s no visible deformity, a person with a fractured elbow might notice localized swelling, bruising and tenderness to the touch. In many cases, there is immediate pain or a “popping” sound upon impact.
Your healthcare provider will perform an examination and ask you questions about your symptoms. They will also:
In addition to a visual examination, your healthcare provider will also take scans to determine the extent of damage. These imaging tests may include:
Treatment depends on the severity of your elbow fracture. There are two main approaches:
It depends. Some people may need to wear a cast to keep their elbow stable during healing. In some cases, however, a brace, splint or sling is worn instead. Ask your healthcare provider which treatment is best for your situation.
Elbow fractures in children are treated with either non-surgical (with a cast, splint or sling) or surgical methods (with pins, screws or plates). Prompt treatment is imperative for young children because their bones are still developing. Correcting the problem immediately is much more predictable. Waiting too long could lead to improper bone alignment or permanent damage.
While it’s not possible to prevent elbow fractures altogether, there are a few things you can do to reduce your risk. For example:
Your recovery timeline depends on the extent of your injury. In most cases, people with elbow fractures will be in a cast or splint for at least three to six weeks. Many people can return to normal activities in about four months, though full healing can take a year or longer.
Some people experience stiffness or a lack of mobility after their cast or splint comes off. These side effects should diminish over time. Your healthcare provider may recommend physical or occupational therapy to accelerate healing and help you regain strength and range of motion.
If you’ve sustained an injury that resulted in sharp, sudden pain in your elbow, visit your nearest emergency room or express care immediately. Prompt diagnosis and treatment is necessary to ensure proper healing.
Following treatment for a broken elbow, there are several things you can do to foster a comfortable recovery. For example:
When a ligament is stretched or torn, it’s called a sprain. In most cases, people who’ve sprained their elbow can still move it, though it may cause discomfort. A sprain can exhibit similar symptoms as a fracture, so it’s important to see your healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis. They will perform a physical examination and take X-rays to determine if your elbow is fractured.
The most common elbow fracture is an olecranon fracture, which occurs at the very tip of the elbow. This area is susceptible to fractures because it’s not protected by muscles and other tissues.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
If you’ve sustained an injury to your elbow, you should see your healthcare provider right away. Even if you can move your arm or elbow, you may still have a broken bone. Immediate medical attention is necessary to avoid permanent stiffness or damage.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/28/2021.
Learn more about our editorial process.