How do I Treat a Broken Elbow?

Dorothy Distefano

The elbow is a joint composed of ligaments, cartilage, and bone. A broken elbow is a break in the end of one of the bones at this joint. Treatment usually includes an X-ray to confirm the fracture, ice, casting, and sometimes surgery.

Treatment is based on the location and severity of the elbow injury.
Treatment is based on the location and severity of the elbow injury.

The three bones that meet at the elbow are the humerus, radius, and ulna. The humerus is the bone in the upper arm. The radius and ulna are the bones of the forearm. Any of those bones can be broken near the elbow joint.

Having an x-ray is the first step in determining the extent of an elbow injury.
Having an x-ray is the first step in determining the extent of an elbow injury.

Symptoms of a broken elbow may include severe pain, swelling, bruising, tenderness, and numbness of the fingers. It may be difficult to extend the arm at the elbow, and moving the joint will probably be very painful.

The elbow is where the humerus, ulna, and radius bones join together in the arm.
The elbow is where the humerus, ulna, and radius bones join together in the arm.

As soon as possible after the injury, place ice on the elbow joint. This will help to decrease inflammation and control pain. Ice should be applied for 20 minutes then removed for 20 minutes, since leaving it on for too long can result in frostbite.

If a break is suspected, you should seek medical attention. An X-ray is generally used to verify that one of the bones is actually fractured. Breaks in the end of the humerus near the elbow are more common in children than in adults. The most common break is to the part of the ulna that cradles the end of the humerus.

When a broken bone is confirmed, the treatment will be based on the location and severity of the break. Fractures of the ulna can occasionally be treated with a splint or a sling to immobilize the joint, but most will require casting to heal properly. Any movement within the joint may require surgery to put the bone back together.

A fracture that is displaced, or out of alignment, will need surgical intervention so that the elbow can heal properly and bend and straighten after it's healed. If bone fragments cut through the skin, a operation will be required to thoroughly clean the area and to fix the fracture. Pins, screws, plates, or stitches may be used to hold the bone together. After surgery, a splint or cast will likely be needed to keep the arm immobile during healing.

After surgery, a patient may require physical therapy to regain an optimal range of motion in the elbow. The patient may not be able to straighten the joint fully. Doing physical therapy and performing the recommended exercises at home will improve healing time and increase the potential for a full recovery.

A sling may be required to immobilize the ulna joint.
A sling may be required to immobilize the ulna joint.

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Discussion Comments


I have an Olecranon fracture of my left elbow. I declined surgery and will leave it broken as I can not take time off of work. I have lost use of my left triceps but I can still push and pull things with little issue.


I fell down while playing lawn tennis and broke my left elbow (intercondylar fracture of humerus). They did surgery and placed 11 screws. I started physio 14 days after surgery. Now my elbow is almost back to normal (another 10 degrees to go) and it's been three months since the accident. The only thing I have done apart from my doc's advice is application of an ayurvedic oil called 'Murivenna'. I am not sure whether it works for all, but it worked on me.


I am a 31 year old female who sustained an injury to my left elbow nine years ago. This elbow has always bothered me since, but up until recently not to the point when I complained at appointments.

About a week ago, I went to have an X-ray of the elbow to find out that I have a dislocated fracture (nine years old). The next step is to see a orthopedic surgeon. What do you think is the best option for me?


I'm a 67 year old female who smashed her elbow rather badly four months ago when I fell during a game of table tennis. I had surgery and was placed in a cast for three weeks and then bandaged.

It's true about the physiotherapy - it's the most important element in the healing process. I have good range of motion now but the doctor frightened me this week by telling me that there is no healing in the elbow. How can that be when I am faithfully doing my physiotherapy and have good range? What does it mean for the future of my elbow? Can anyone tell me?


Just finished getting back from the ER and I have a fractured radial head (outside bone of elbow if palms towards the sky. It hurts all the way down my forearm, and I am casted for a week, with three weeks of little or no motion.


I am a student. One year ago, I fell from my bike and the bike's handle fell on my left elbow. My left elbow joint had broken. I had surgery and took physiotherapy also, but I can't exercise properly and now I can't straighten my hand.

It has been over a year since my elbow surgery. Is there anyone who can straighten my hand? Please tell me.


My elbow was fractured over 20 years ago in a domestic dispute. I had emergency surgery and pins placed but the elbow never straightened like it was.

I learned to live with it over the years but now the whole arm is giving me all kinds of pain and something is sticking me in the elbow area. My range of motion is even worse now. Is there anything I can do after this much time has passed? I'm a 55 year old female.


I also had a broken elbow, but thankfully did not have to have surgery. I did wear a cast so my arm was immobilized for several weeks.

Even without having any surgery, I was surprised at how painful and sensitive this was. I am so thankful my break was not my dominant side. I can't imagine how frustrating it would have been if it had been my right elbow that was broken.

The only other time I had a broken bone was when I broke my arm skiing. You would think since the arm was bigger than my elbow that would have been more painful, but the broken elbow was much worse than my arm.


You don't realize how often you use your elbow until you injure it. A few years ago I slipped on the ice and ended up with a broken elbow.

At first I thought this was no big deal, but I had no idea how long the whole process would take to heal. My initial x-ray showed where it was broken, and it was bad enough that I had to have surgery.

After surgery, I had many weeks of physical therapy so I could get full range of motion again without any pain. Of course I broke my right elbow, and I am right handed, so that was really a pain.

I became pretty good at using my left hand and elbow, but it took me much longer to get anything done. If anyone ever breaks their elbow, I would encourage you to keep up with your therapy as this will make a difference in your recovery time.


@turquoise-- Yep, I agree with @anamur. Treating a broken elbow is a long process and it relies on therapy. I had a friend who didn't follow up with the whole physical therapy after he broke his elbow several years ago. That was such a bad idea, he still can't bend it completely.

Physical therapists are quite amazing when it comes to this stuff. They know what needs to be done to help the elbow get back into shape.

It doesn't mean that it's pain-free. Sometimes it's painful, especially when you start lifting small weights to strengthen the muscles again after the bone heals. But that's exactly what the elbow needs. I don't know how they do it, but it works. If you follow their directions, you'll be good as new.


@turquoise-- All in all, it took me about five or six months until I got full range of motion back with my elbow.

Did you have your elbow pinned together after the fracture? I had a broken radius in my elbow, and a couple of other fractures in the bone. So mine had to be screwed back together. Broken elbows that require surgery tend to take longer to heal. It sounds like you're doing well, take your time. You'll probably be able to straighten it out without problems in the next two months.

In terms of cycling though, it might take you longer to be pain free. Even after my elbow was completely healed, it used to ache whenever I exercised and moved it too much for about a year.

All I can say is, keep going to physical therapy and be patient. You can't rush this process, it takes time.


I'm a cyclist. I fell off my bike two months ago and fractured my elbow. I had it in a cast for a month and the cast has been off for the past one month now. I'm still not able to move my elbow much.

I'm going to physical therapy and there has been some improvement, but a lot slower than I expected. I still haven't been able to straighten out my elbow. It's just not flexible enough and hurts really bad if I try.

I'm just wondering, how long does it usually take for the fracture to completely heal and the elbow get back to its old flexibility and movement?

My physiotherapist won't give me a specific time frame, just says, "as long as it will take."

Has anyone broken their elbow before? Can you tell me how long it took for you to get back to full range of movement?

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