How Long Does a Fractured Elbow Take to Heal Surgery Recovery

How Long Does a Fractured Elbow Take to Heal Surgery Recovery

How Long Does a Fractured Elbow Take to Heal? Surgery & Recovery

A fractured elbow can take over a year to heal, but most people recover within 3 months with proper treatment. The healing time for a broken elbow depends on the type of fracture and the chosen treatment.

Depending on the fracture type, your arm will be placed in a cast or splint for 3-6 weeks, followed by recommended physical therapy to regain strength, muscle tone, and range of motion. Normal activities can be resumed within 4-8 months.

What is an elbow fracture?

An elbow fracture occurs when one or more of the three elbow bones (radius, ulna, and humerus) are broken. It can also damage the surrounding muscles, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels, requiring immediate medical attention.

Types of elbow fractures include:

  • Nondisplaced: Bone has cracked or broken but stays in place
  • Displaced: Broken bone ends have shifted from their original position
  • Comminuted: Bone has cracked or broken into multiple pieces
  • Open: Broken bone has pierced the skin

Elbow fractures are categorized as I to III, based on severity:

  • Type I: Bone is fractured but remains in its normal position
  • Type II: A piece or part of the bone has fractured and shifted from its normal position
  • Type III: Multiple fractures in the bone
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Type I and II fractures are usually treated nonsurgically, while type III fractures usually require surgery.

What are different types of elbow fractures?

Due to the fragile nature of the bony elbow tip and inadequate soft tissue protection, different types of elbow fractures can occur depending on the type of damage. Common elbow fractures include:

  • Olecranon fracture: Fracture of the protruding bony portion of the elbow caused by a fall or direct force
  • Fractured radial head: Breakage of the head of the radius bone in the elbow joint
  • Supracondylar fracture: Affecting the base of the upper arm bone, more common in children, frequently causing bone displacement

What are the signs of a fractured elbow?

Pain, swelling, bruising, and inability to move the elbow are signs of a fractured elbow. Displaced fractures or joint dislocations may result in limb deformities.

Other signs of a fractured elbow may include:

  • Intense pain
  • Redness and tenderness around the injury site
  • Swelling along the elbow or forearm
  • Difficulty moving the elbow or forearm
  • Popping or snapping sound during the injury
  • Stiffness in the elbow joint
  • Bruising along the elbow or forearm
  • Numbness and tingling in the arm, wrist, or hand
  • Instability in the elbow joint
  • Visibly dislocated bone

If you experience these symptoms, seek medical attention to avoid complications. Additional tests may be ordered to assess the condition, including X-rays, MRI scans, or CT scans.


What can cause an elbow fracture?

The elbow is prone to fractures due to repetitive use, significant impact, or excessive pressure applied to the bone.

Direct impact

  • Car crash
  • Falling awkwardly
  • Lifting heavy objects

Repetitive force

  • Overuse
  • Repetitive pushing
  • Physical stress

Indirect impact

  • Shockwave from impact on the wrist, hand, or shoulder
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Possible causes

  • Falling on the elbow
  • Direct blow to the elbow
  • Twisting injury to the arm
  • Falling on an extended arm
  • Trauma from accidents

What are risk factors for an elbow fracture?

Risk factors for an elbow fracture may include:

  • Age (children and the elderly)
  • Participation in sports (football, gymnastics, bicycling, skateboarding)
  • Osteoporosis
  • Postmenopause
  • Bone tumors or cysts
  • Decreased muscle mass

How can you prevent an elbow fracture?

While it may be impossible to completely prevent injuries, you can reduce the risk of an elbow fracture by taking preventive measures:

  • Use properly fitted safety equipment during physical activities
  • Learn proper exercise techniques and form
  • Maintain overall fitness
  • Warm up before activities

How is a fractured elbow treated?

The choice of treatment for a fractured elbow depends on several factors:

  • Fracture severity and type
  • Fracture location
  • Nerve and blood vessel damage
  • Age and general health

Based on your case, your doctor will determine the appropriate treatment. It’s important to avoid lifting with the affected arm for at least 6 weeks after the injury.

Conservative treatment

  • For the first 1-2 days, applying an ice pack to the affected area every 3-4 hours for up to 20 minutes at a time may be recommended.
  • Supporting or elevating the arm with pillows
  • Using pain relievers or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling

Nonsurgical treatment

  • Stabilizing the elbow fractures to prevent further damage by realigning the bones and applying a splint or cast
  • If the fracture is stable and not displaced, a splint or cast is used for bone alignment while healing
  • Splints provide less support but can accommodate swelling

Surgical treatment

If bone pieces are displaced, surgery is required to ensure proper fracture healing.

  • Closed reduction and percutaneous pinning
  • Repositioning and stabilizing displaced bone pieces with metal pins
  • Inserting pins through the skin, into the bone, and across the fracture
  • Applying a splint or cast for the first week
  • Removing the pins and splint/cast after a few weeks
  • This surgery is necessary for fractures that cannot be repositioned during closed reduction or cause nerve or vascular injury
  • Emergency surgery is performed for open fractures to reduce infection risk, and antibiotics are given
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Rehabilitation after surgery

  • Maintaining mobility through elbow movement is essential for recovery as stiffness is a major concern after elbow surgery
  • Physical therapy should begin as soon as permitted to regain arm range of motion and strength
  • Recommended therapies may include strengthening exercises, scar massage, ultrasound therapy, heat therapy, and ice therapy

What are possible complications of a fractured elbow?

Untreated elbow fractures can result in severe pain and disability. Common complications include:

  • Stiffness: Joint stiffness is common after an elbow fracture or surgery, and compensation by the shoulder, hand, and wrist may occur
  • Heterotopic ossification (HO): Rare development of new bone growth in soft tissues, causing joint stiffness. Surgery may be necessary to remove the new bone
  • Arthritis: Risk of post-traumatic arthritis if the fracture affects a joint. Elbow arthritis can occur immediately or develop over time due to joint surface wear
  • Other complications:
  • Injury to the growth plate, leading to early closure
  • Damage to the nerves and blood vessels around the elbow
  • Restricted elbow joint movement
  • Infection around elbow pins

What is the prognosis for a fractured elbow?

Due to the complexity of the elbow joint, the prognosis for a fractured elbow depends on age, overall health, and injury severity.

With proper treatment and no complications, most people will fully recover.

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