What is an Elbow Fracture?

What is an Elbow Fracture?

An elbow fracture, also known as a broken elbow, is a break in one to three of the bones at the tip of the elbow. This injury can result from direct trauma—falling on the elbow or on an outstretched hand.

Not all elbow fractures are visible, but the elbow will appear deformed due to the broken bone in many instances. There may be a “popping” sound on impact and immediate pain, accompanied by swelling and bruising.

A fractured elbow is a common injury, especially in young children. Early diagnosis and treatment of elbow fractures can prevent future complications and disabilities.

Types of Elbow Fractures


There are three general types of elbow fractures, including:

  • Olecranon fractures. The olecranon bone makes up the pointy tip of your elbow. Its visibility and lack of muscular protection leave it vulnerable to injury, making the olecranon fracture one of the most common types of fractured elbow.
  • Radial head fractures. Radial head fractures can occur when elbow joints separate and come out of the socket (dislocate). They often happen when you use your arm to break a fall. The radial head pushes back into the upper arm bone (humerus), causing a fracture.
  • Distal humerus fractures. The distal humerus bone connects the shoulder joint to the elbow, meeting the ulna and radius (forearm bones) to make up the upper part of the elbow joint. Although uncommon, distal humerus fractures can be caused by trauma or falling on a bent arm.
  • A fractured hairline elbow fracture, or stress fracture, is a tiny crack in the bone. These fractures can develop gradually from overuse, whereas a traumatic incident causes traditional fractures.

Signs & Symptoms of Elbow Fracture


Signs and symptoms of a fractured elbow can include:

  • Swelling, significantly above and below the elbow joint
  • Bruising around the elbow or the arm
  • Deformity of the elbow or adjacent areas
  • Pain when moving the elbow or rotating your forearm
  • Numbness or a cold sensation in your finger, hand, or forearm
  • Tenderness when touching the area
  • Stiffness and limited movement. Difficulty extending, flexing (touching your shoulder with your fingers), or rotating the elbow or arm.

If you are experiencing any of these broken elbow symptoms after trauma to the elbow area, it would be wise to contact an orthopedic specialist as soon as possible. They can provide a diagnosis and treatment for an elbow fracture.

What Causes an Elbow Fracture?


Elbows are susceptible to fractures due to their lack of protection by muscles and other tissues. Some of the most common causes of an elbow fracture include:

  • Accidents resulting in a forceful, direct blow to the elbow, such as falling off a bike
  • Sports injuries while playing games such as tennis and football
  • Falling on an outstretched arm that can result in trauma to the elbow



Anyone can fracture an elbow. But there are certain precautions you can take to help prevent an elbow fracture, including:

  • Wearing proper safety gear, such as elbow pads and wrist guards
  • Practicing proper form and technique while playing sports
  • Avoiding perilous situations, especially ones that could result in a fall
  • Exercising regularly to maintain agility and strength
Get Care

Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Elbow Fracture Care

An elbow fracture can be a painful injury and requires medical care. The expert doctors and orthopedic specialists at NewYork-Presbyterian and Columbia Orthopedics can provide a diagnosis and treatment options for your fractured elbow so that you can get back to your regular activities as soon as possible.

For compassionate solutions for your fractured elbow or other orthopedic issues, contact NewYork-Presbyterian today for an appointment.