Understanding Olecranon Fractures: Causes, Treatment, and Recovery

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  • Understanding Olecranon Fractures: Causes, Treatment, and Recovery

The olecranon is part of the upper end of one of the bones in the forearm. It forms part of the elbow joint. An olecranon fracture can be caused by a direct impact on the elbow or impact on an outstretched arm.

If the fracture occurs in the elderly, it is usually caused by falling from ground level on an outstretched arm (low-energy fall). Having osteoporosis (brittle bones) also increases the risk of a fracture.

If the fracture occurs in young people, it is usually caused by high-energy trauma, such as falling from a high level of traffic accident.

What should I do if I fracture my Olecranon?

Signs of a fracture include:

  • Pain and swelling around the elbow
  • Inability to extend your arm

You should avoid moving your arm. You should seek medical treatment immediately.

How is an Olecranon fracture diagnosed?

A fracture is usually diagnosed through an X-ray. During an X-ray, electromagnetic waves are used to look at the structure of the bones, which can help the doctor determine if it is broken or not. Although the patient is exposed to some radiation, it is very minimal.

How is the fracture treated?

The fracture can be treated through surgical or non-surgical methods depending on how severe the fracture is and what type of fracture it is.

Non-surgical method

The arm will usually be immobilised using a cast or a splint. The duration of immobilisation depends on the severity of the fracture and the age of the patient, but the patient can usually move after 3 to 4 weeks.

Physical therapy sessions may also be involved in treatment to help the patient recover mobility in the elbow through light exercises. It usually takes a few months for the bone to completely heal.

Surgical methods

The type of procedure depends on various factors such as the severity of the fracture, whether or not the patient has osteoporosis etc.

1. Tension band wiring

Wires are used to hold the broken parts of the olecranon together to allow the bone to heal incorrect positions. After the surgery, the elbow may be placed in a splint for a few days to minimise pain. The patient will be able to move the elbow but not carry heavy loads as the fracture is healing. This procedure is usually carried out for fractures where the bone has broken into 2 parts horizontally and the fragments are not close together (displaced transverse fracture).

2. Open reduction internal fixation (ORIF)

An incision will be made with the patient under general anaesthesia. Hardware, such as plates and screws will be used to secure the bones in place. This allows the bones to heal in the correct positions.

For an assessment of your condition, please book an appointment with Dr Yong Ren.

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Sarah Taylor

Obstetrics & Gynaecology