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Distal Humerus Fractures of the Elbow

The elbow is a region between the upper arm and the forearm. The elbow joint is made up of 3 bones. The distal (lower) end of the humerus bone in the upper arm joins with the radius and ulna bones in the forearm to form the elbow joint. The elbow joint is very important for the movement of your arms and for coordination of daily activities. Injury in the distal humerus can cause impairment in the function of the elbow joint. Distal humerus fracture is a rare condition which occurs when there is break in the lower end of the humerus. The treatment of distal humerus fracture aims at restoration of normal anatomy.

Causes

A distal humerus fracture may result due to a fall. This occurs more often when you land directly on your elbow during the fall or when you get struck by a hard object. It can also happen when you fall on your outstretched arm with the elbow locked straight.

Symptoms

Distal humerus fractures are usually very painful. The common symptoms are swelling, bruising, stiffness, tenderness, severe pain and inability to move the arm.

Diagnosis

Distal humerus fractures are generally considered an emergency condition. Professor Bain will examine and assess the arm to diagnose the extent of the injury. X-ray will also be performed.  

Treatment

Distal humerus fractures can be treated by both non-surgical and surgical methods based on the intensity of the fracture.

Non-surgical Treatment

If the fracture has not caused displacement of the bone, then Professor Bain might apply a splint (a casting) may be applied and you may be required to wear a sling until complete healing and recovery occurs.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery may be recommended if the fracture has led to the displacement of bone or joint, or pieces of the bone have exited the skin. During surgery, the displaced bone or pieces of bone are moved together with the help of metal screws and plates. You may also be given antibiotics to avoid the risk of infection.

As these are complex injuries, physiotherapy is often required. The final outcome often will have some stiffness or pain, especially if the fracture goes into the joint.