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Broken Elbow (cont.)

Broken Elbow Prognosis

The elbow is a very complex joint. Recovery of the elbow after it is broken depends on age and medical condition at the time of injury, as well as the type of injury.

Certain types of elbow injuries are associated with particular types of problems as they heal. Children tend to heal better than adults.

Some of common problems with broken elbows include:

  • Infection: Open injuries - when one of the elbow bones comes through the skin-have a higher infection risk. Bacteria can enter the bone or joint and cause infection.
  • Stiffness: Many elbow injuries result in elbow stiffness. The injured elbow may not flex, extend, or turn as much as it once did. This usually is more common in adults than in children.
  • Nonunion: A broken bone that does not grow back together is called nonunion. Nonunion of a broken elbow can be treated by replacing the elbow with an artificial joint or by bone grafting. Bone grafting involves placing additional bone around the area of the nonunion.
  • Malunion: Malunion occurs when healing bones grow back together in an abnormal way. The bone may be bent or twisted. An operation may be required to fix this problem.
  • Abnormal bone growth: A broken bone repairs itself by forming new bone. As a broken elbow heals, this new bone may form in areas where bone does not usually grow.
  • Arthritis: Arthritis literally means joint inflammation. After a severe injury, people can develop a type of arthritis that may make a joint painful and stiff. This may worsen with cold weather or overuse.
  • Nerve damage: The three nerves that run through the elbow can be cut, contused, kinked, or pulled in an elbow injury. The resulting nerve damage may be temporary or permanent. Swelling after an elbow injury can press on nerves causing damage.
  • Hardware problems: Doctors sometimes repair broken elbows with wires, pins, screws, plates, and other pieces of hardware. If any of this hardware moves, it may cause pain or unsightly bumps under the skin. If this occurs, the hardware may need to be removed.
  • Blood vessel damage: A large artery runs very near the elbow joint to supply blood to the forearm, wrist, and hand. Certain elbow injures may cut or kink this artery. Sometimes resetting the broken elbow will relieve pressure on the artery. Sometimes patients may need an operation to speed recovery.

Medically reviewed by Aimee V. HachigianGould, MD; American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery

REFERENCE: Elbow Fracture.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/30/2015

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