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Broken elbow (olecranon fracture)

Tuke tāwhatiwhati

Olecranon fracture, showing the humerus and radius with the olecranon broken from the ulnaYour elbow is the moveable joint between your upper arm bone (humerus) and your forearm bones (radius and ulna). It works like a hinge. The hard point or tip of your elbow is called the olecranon (o-lek-ra-non).

A fracture (or break) of the olecranon usually happens when you fall onto a hard surface and directly hit the point of your elbow. It can also be caused by:

Symptoms of a broken elbow

If you've broken your olecranon, the tip of your elbow will be painful and swollen. It may be hard to bend and straighten your elbow. Your elbow may seem to be deformed because it's swollen or a bone is out of place.

You may feel pain just where it's broken or whenever you move your arm. It's possible your fingers may tingle, your fingertips may be numb or your elbow might feel unstable as if your elbow is going to pop out. Make sure you remove any rings from your fingers before they start to swell.

Diagnosing a broken elbow

If you think you may have broken a bone in your elbow, it's important to see a doctor. They will ask about how your injury happened, look at your elbow and take X-rays to find out which bone is broken and what kind of break it is. They may also X-ray above and below where you're sore to check if you have any other nearby injuries. You may need a CT scan, which can show a complex break more clearly or an MRI to show any soft tissue injury.

Self-care for a broken elbow

There are several things you can do to help your olecranon heal, whether or not you're having surgery.

On the next page: Treating a broken elbow

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed July 2022.


See also:

Broken bones first aid

Broken radial head

Page reference: 131977

Review key: HISHI-13267