Elbow Fractures in Children
Elbow fractures in children are relatively common. Because most children are so physically active, they regularly participate in activities that put them at risk for elbow trauma, such as skateboarding, football, gymnastics and bicycling. Falls from playground equipment and motor vehicle accidents are also another cause of elbow injuries.
About the Elbow
The elbow is a complex joint, and is composed of three bones: the ulna, the radius and the humerus. The humerus is the large bone in the upper arm situated between the shoulder and the elbow. The radius is one of the two long bones in the forearm and is located on the thumb side of the arm. The ulna takes the opposite position in the forearm on the little finger side.
With so many bones and their attending ligaments and nerves, you can easily see how there can be many types of elbow fractures, depending on the structures involved and the severity of the injury.
Symptoms of Broken Elbow
Here is what to look for if you suspect your child has a broken elbow:
- Your child complains of intense pain in the elbow region and cannot straighten his arm
- There is swelling around the elbow joint
- Your child may complain of numbness in the hand (this may be a sign of nerve damage)
If you suspect your child has a fractured elbow, it’s important to take him to an emergency facility for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Diagnosis – Evaluation
The emergency room physician will ask both you and your child questions to make sure he understands exactly how the elbow injury occurred. Let the treating physician know if your child has any underlying disease or had a problem with the elbow prior to the current injury.
The doctor will order pain medication for your child at the outset. This will help to make your child more comfortable and will make it easier for the doctor to do a thorough examination to make sure there are no signs of nerve or blood vessel damage.
Next, x-rays of the elbow and perhaps the entire arm will be ordered to see if there is a broken or dislocated bone. If one or more of the bones in the elbow is fractured, these x-rays will enable the doctor to know exactly where the fracture is located, how widely separated the ends of the fractured bones are as well as determining if there is damage to any of the growth plates of the involved bones. The growth plates are located near the ends of the bones. Growth plate fractures sometimes require surgery and always require careful follow up to make sure they heal properly.
Treatment – Orthopedics
If your child has a broken elbow, he will most likely be seen by the orthopedist (the bone specialist), either right there in the Emergency Room or shortly after in the office to further evaluate your child and determine the course of treatment.
Treatment will depend on the type of fracture and how badly the bones are displaced or angulated. If the injury is not properly treated, your child could be at risk of the elbow healing in the wrong position, leaving him with limited range of motion and a joint that is permanently crooked.
There are two types of treatment for a broken elbow; surgical and non-surgical, depending on the type of bone fracture. If the ends of the bones are not too widely separated, the orthopedist may be able to manually manipulate the arm (after your child is sedated) to get the bones back into correct position before a cast is applied. If the fracture is stable and the ends are not displaced, a splint may be applied instead of a cast.
If the bones are widely displaced, your child will likely need to undergo surgical treatment. Surgery may involve closed reduction and pinning of the fractured bones externally through the skin. In the case of an elbow fracture that cannot be successfully repositioned or an injury which involves damage to nerves or blood vessels, open surgery with reduction of the fracture and internal positioning of pins or other hardware may be required.
Prognosis – Outlook
In most cases, children who sustain a fracture of the elbow will recover completely with proper treatment. You can expect your child to be either in a splint or a cast for 3 to 6 weeks following this type of traumatic injury, regardless if surgery is required or not.
Rehabilitation from Traumatic Injuries
Physical therapy may be recommended after the fracture has healed to recover any lost range of motion.
Bone Fracture Lawyer in Sacramento
I’m Ed Smith, a bone fracture lawyer in Sacramento. If you, or someone you hold dear has been hurt in an accident due to the negligence of another, please call me at (916) 921-6400 for free and friendly advice. When calling from outside the (916) area, please call me toll-free at (800) 404-5400.
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