Fractures around the elbow (Radial Head, Distal Humerus, Olecranon, Capitellum, Coronoid Process)

I had an accident and broke a bone at my elbow (radial head, distal humerus, olecranon, capitellum, coronoid process)

Depending on the fracture site and type, your injury can be treated conservatively or might require surgical fixation. Regardless, you might find yourself in an emergency department, suffering from pain and information overload and need some guidance and care. Please feel free to get in touch with our reception staff (07 3394 4073) and we will endeavour to look after you acutely. Should you happen to be at Greenslopes Private Hospital Emergency Centre ask your treating doctor to get in touch with us. This is a straight forward referral process and Dr Rhau is often able to see you on short notice.

I need follow up treatment for a fracture at my elbow

Dr Rhau is happy to manage your non operative care and can liaise with physiotherapists and hand therapist our to an on-site cooptation in his rooms. Provision of wound care, oedema management, custom bracing or other external aids are readily available through Dr Rhau’s practice.

How do fractures around the elbow occur?

Fractures around the elbow usually happen during a fall onto the outstretched arm. They happen in all age groups but differ in type and configuration. Often theses fractures are accompanied by ligament injuries.

Which structures around the elbow break?

The elbow is a hinged joint consisting of three bones: the humerus from the upper arm and the radius and ulna from the forearm. Fracture site and fracture configuration vary heavily amongst the different age groups.Typically we speak about the ‘distal humerus’ which is the part of the humerus close to the elbow. There is also the ‘radial head’ of the radius as well as the ‘coronoid process’ and the ‘olecranon’ which are parts of the ulna.

How are fractures around the elbow diagnosed?

The injury mechanism is often the first clue towards the diagnosis. Pain and deformity as well as inability to move the elbow are also giveaways of an elbow injury. X-rays and CT scan are the most commonly used imaging studies for correct diagnosis and planning of adequate management.

How are fractures around the elbow treated?

Due to the complex nature of the elbow and its function in allowing a hinged motion as well as forearm rotation, treatment depends heavily on the actual injury pattern. In children, for instance, the majority of fractures can be reduced under anaesthesia and immobilised in a plaster cast whereas in adults open reduction and fixation is often required. In severe fractures of the ‘distal humerus’ or the ‘radial head’ replacements might be the better option. Partial and total elbow replacements are available as well as radial head replacements and a decision needs to be made which procedure will provide the best outcome with the lowest complication rate.

Surgery for fractures around the elbow

The individual surgery for fractures around the elbow depends on the individual part that is broken. Simple olecranon fractures (part of ulna close to elbow) can even be treated as day cases. More complex fracture surgeries or replacements require hospital admission due to the longer time of general anaesthesia and pain management. Most patients are able to leave the hospital on the day after surgery.

Preparation for surgery for fractures around the elbow

If required we will arrange for a bulk billed pre-admission clinic at the hospital. This is run by a specialist anaesthetist who will gather information and request investigations that are required for safe anaesthesia. Our reception staff will advise of costs, hospital and admission details. In select cases we will arrange for a thermoplastic custom brace to be fitted which will be used during the first few weeks after the operation. If you happen to be admitted via the emergency centre all this can be arranged in the hospital.

Recovery from surgery for fractures around the elbow

After discharge from the hospital we will arrange for physiotherapy at a location that is convenient for you. The elbow joint tends to develop stiffness quickly and one goal of fracture fixation is to allow for early range of motion exercises. If ligament repair was required, brace immobilisation continues until week six after surgery but supervised exercises can commence after two weeks. In other cases simple sling immobilisation is sufficient for only a few weeks.