Overview and Facts about Distal Humerus Fractures
The distal humerus is a bone in the lower end of your humerus (upper arm bone). A fracture to this area causes pain in the elbow and affects how the forearm bends and straightens.
The most common cause of this injury is a direct blow to the elbow, usually in a traumatic event such as an automobile accident. Treatment options depend on the extent of the fracture and include non-surgical options (wearing a splint for a period of time) or surgical options (open reduction, arthroplasty or arthrodesis).
Symptoms of Distal Humerus Fractures
Symptoms of a distal humerus fracture include pain in the elbow and a limited range of motion, as well as:
- Instability of the elbow joint
- Stiffness in the joint
Causes and Risk Factors of Distal Humerus Fractures
A distal humerus fracture is usually caused by a direct blow or fall on the elbow. Falling onto an outstretched arm can also cause this type of injury. A traumatic event, such as an automobile accident, can cause this fracture to occur.
Patients at a higher risk of this injury are usually older, as weakened bones can break more easily, even with minor falls. Those with osteoporosis are especially prone to this injury.
Tests and Diagnosis of Distal Humerus Fractures
You doctor will begin by examining your elbow, checking for signs of tenderness, swelling and pain, and evaluating your range of motion. He/she will also go over your medical history, especially any recent traumatic events that may have caused the fracture. Imaging tests, such as X-rays or CT scans, may also be ordered to assess the severity of the fracture and check other areas of your arm for any additional injuries.
Treatment and Care for Distal Humerus Fractures
Immediate treatment for a distal humerus fracture includes placing a splint to keep your elbow stable. Your doctor will also give you medications to relieve pain and advise you to ice the area to reduce swelling.
If the fracture is stable (i.e., bones have not moved out of place) your doctor may place the splint and use X-rays to check that the area is healing. You may also only need to wear a splint if your doctor is concerned that surgery is not an option for you (i.e., you have osteoporosis or other serious medical condition).
If the fracture requires surgery, your doctor will determine your options based on your overall health and the severity of the injury. If the bones have moved out of place or punctured through the skin, surgery is usually the necessary course of treatment.
Surgeries to treat distal humerus fracture include:
- Arthroplasty (total elbow replacement): for severe damage to the distal humerus
- Open reduction and internal fixation: most common surgical treatment for this injury
- Arthodesis, or fusion: usually only appropriate for select patients
Recovery from a distal humerus fracture includes prescription or non-prescription medication and physical therapy. You may also have restrictions for how much weight you can lift or pull in daily activities for a period of time, as determined by your doctor.