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Don’t Play Around with Elbow Injuries

Nov 18, 2019

Bazzi, AhmedThe warm weather is upon us.  This is great news for kids that have been cooped up inside.  But as kids hit the playscapes, trampolines and other activities requiring jumping and climbing, parents should be forewarned these activities have the potential to cause elbow injuries.

“It is one of the more common injuries we see in the orthopedics department,” says Ahmed Bazzi, D.O., orthopedic surgeon at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, part of the Detroit Medical Center.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, fractures that occur in, or around, the elbow account for about 10 percent of all fractures in children. Many elbow injuries occur at playgrounds when children are playing on monkey bars. They lose their grip, slip off, and fall onto an outstretched arm. Elbow injuries can also occur when kids jump and fall off a bed.

Prevention Tips

For younger children, falls from lower heights, such as the bed or couch, are often responsible for elbow fractures as the child puts his/her arm out to break the fall. Parents should discourage bouncing on beds or furniture.

Also make sure athletes wear the proper protective equipment. Elbow guards and pads can help reduce the risk of an elbow fracture.

When to seek care from a pediatric specialist

Symptoms of a broken elbow include:

  • Severe pain in the elbow and forearm
  • Limited range of motion after an injury
  • Possible numbness in the hand, if nerve injury has occurred

If your child complains of elbow pain after a fall and refuses to straighten his or her arm, see a doctor immediately.

Treatment options

Treatment depends on the type of fracture, how angulated it is, and the degree of displacement. Displacement refers to how far apart the broken ends of the bones are.

Nonsurgical Treatment

If there is little or no displacement, the doctor may immobilize the arm in a cast or splint for up to five weeks. During this time, x-rays may be needed to determine whether the bones are staying properly aligned.

Surgical Treatment

If the fracture forced the bones out of alignment, the doctor will have to manipulate them back into place. Sometimes, this can be done without surgery, but more often, surgery will be needed. Pins, screws, or wires are used to hold the bones in place. The child will have to wear a cast for several weeks before the pins are removed. Range of motion exercises can usually begin about three or four weeks after surgery.

Long-term Outcome

“If your child suffers an elbow injury it is important to be seen by an emergency room pediatric specialist or a pediatric orthopedic specialist since some of these injuries may be associated with nerve damage, impaired circulation and arrested growth or deformity if not treated promptly,” says Dr. Bazzi.

If the elbow fracture has been placed back together in the normal position, and then fixed with pins temporarily until the ends are healed, the chance that the range of motion returns to normal is excellent.

If the fracture heals in the wrong position, the elbow may remain permanently crooked and have a limited range of motion.  This may warrant corrective surgery which involves cutting the bone to realign it.  It is very important that the elbow be treated correctly at the time of the initial injury to optimize treatment outcomes.