The funny bone, or humerus, is so called because a small tap on the elbow can send a strange tingling sensation shooting up your arm. This is actually due to the location of the ulnar nerve. The ulnar runs close to the surface starting at the elbow and continuing up to the shoulder. When we end up hitting our humerus in the elbow area, that strange and slightly painful feeling may leave us laughing a bit, but not like from a good knock-knock joke; more likely, because it’s a nervous reaction to a strange or uncommon feeling.

The elbow joint itself is composed of three bones. The humerus, or upper arm bone, the ulna, or smaller forearm bone on the same side as your pinky, and the radius, or forearm bone on the thumb side. The elbow is a hinge joint. This means it opens much like a hinge, allowing for extension away from, and flexion towards the body.

The elbow can be broken. This is especially true in contact sports where team members may be running on the field. No matter where the injury occurs, depending on the severity of the break, surgical intervention may be required to reset the bones, repair muscles, nerves, blood vessels and other tissues such as ligaments (which stabilize joints), and tendons (which connect muscle to bone).

Additionally, one or more bones may be dislocated from the socket. If the bones have been moved out of place, surgery is likely so that any bone fragments can be removed and the bones reset. Additionally, if the break is an open fracture, the wound will require cleaning in order to reduce the chance of secondary infection.

Symptoms of a Broken Elbow

  • An obvious deformity of the bone may or may not be present
  • Extreme pain or numbness, decreased sensation or a cold sensation in the hand and fingers
  • Difficulty extending or flexing the joint
  • Swelling of the area around the elbow
  • A popping sound or snap at the time of injury
  • Numbness and weakness of the arm, hand or wrist
  • Tenderness to the touch
  • Bruising and discoloration
  • Inability to rotate the palm inward and outward (where the palm faces the floor or the ceiling)

A Broken Elbow is No Laughing Matter

A broken elbow is a serious injury that requires immediate evaluation and treatment.

Fractures on average, take six weeks or longer to heal regardless of whether the break required surgery or you are wearing a splint. Age is also a factor in the treatment of a broken elbow because elbow stiffness following a break is more likely in an adult than a child. Follow up treatment may require physical therapy, which will promote proper movement and expedite healing and strengthening of the muscles and tendons.

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