Your elbow joint consists of three bones: the humerus, the radius and the ulna. These bones are held together by connective tissue, and these ligaments (in combination with the muscles of your arm) help hold the bones in place. If you fall and catch yourself with your hand, such as in sports that put you at risk of falling like ice skating and gymnastics, or twist your arm, you could fracture one of these three bones. This condition is known as an elbow fracture.
Symptoms of an elbow fracture commonly include sudden, intense pain; swelling; tenderness to the touch; stiffness around the elbow; and numbness in the fingers.
An X-ray is necessary to diagnose an elbow fracture and rule out other possible injuries such as a dislocation, so you should consult a sports medicine specialist as soon as possible. He or she might also examine your arm and hand to make sure that the injury did not hamper blood flow to the rest of the arm.
To treat an elbow fracture, all that may be necessary is keeping the arm in a sling for a few weeks to let it heal (under the close supervision of a sports medicine specialist). This method might also require wearing a cast or a splint.
If the fracture is serious enough to warrant surgery, however, it’s usually because the pieces of bone have moved out of alignment, and therefore your arm wouldn’t heal properly on its own, or because pieces of bone are sticking out of the arm from the fracture. To do this, screws and wires may be necessary to put the bone back together. Allowing the bones to heal improperly can result in long-term problems, such as an inability to fully straighten the arm.
After your elbow fracture has healed, get back into everyday activities slowly. Your doctor may recommend physical rehabilitation or exercises to help you regain strength and range of motion in the arm. Recovery is often a slow process; it can take six months or more to fully recover the arm.