Shoulder & Elbow Fractures

Shoulder and elbow fractures often occur with a traumatic injury, such as a fall or car accident. Conditions that weaken the bone, like osteoporosis, can also increase the risk of shoulder and elbow fractures. It is important to seek treatment with an orthopedic specialist in the event of a shoulder or elbow fracture. Depending on the location and severity of the fracture, there are several different treatment options that may be recommended. The goal is to correct the alignment of broken bones and hold the bones in place while they heal.

Dr. Edward Joy has over 10 years of experience in treating shoulder and elbow injuries, and completed a fellowship in shoulder and elbow surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. He also has extensive experience in treating complex shoulder and elbow fractures, and is often referred complex cases by colleagues due to his expertise in treating these types of fractures. Dr. Joy evaluates each fracture on a case by case basis and recommends treatment options that will help patients get the best results. In some cases, shoulder and elbow fractures require surgery, but Dr. Joy will only recommend surgery if it is necessary to correct the problem.

Types of Shoulder & Elbow Fractures

There are several different types of shoulder and elbow fractures, but below are some of the most common fractures Dr. Joy treats in his practice:

  • Proximal humerus fractures - The term “proximal humerus” refers to the top end of the upper arm bone, including the ball portion of the shoulder joint. In some cases, proximal humerus fractures may cause the ball portion of the shoulder joint to completely separate from the rest of the upper arm bone.
  • Clavicle fractures - The clavicle, or collarbone, is another bone that is frequently fractured during traumatic injuries like a fall on one’s side.
  • Radial head fractures - The radial head is the bone in the forearm. Radial head fractures often occur when a person tries to break a fall with an outstretched hand--the force of the fall travels up the forearm and may result in a fracture or dislocation.
  • Olecranon fractures - An olecranon fracture is a fracture of the pointy “tip” of the elbow. Olecranon fractures typically occur when a person has a direct blow to the elbow or hits the elbow during a fall. 
  • Distal humerus fractures - The distal humerus is the lower end of the upper arm bone, where it meets the elbow. Distal humerus fractures are also common with a direct blow to the elbow, or a fall directly onto the elbow.

Symptoms of Shoulder & Elbow Fractures

Symptoms of shoulder and elbow fractures can vary depending on the type and location of the fracture. However, if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms after a fall, collision, or motor vehicle accident, you should seek medical treatment.

  • Pain, swelling, or bruising in the injured area
  • Inability or difficulty moving the shoulder or elbow
  • A feeling of instability in the shoulder or elbow
  • Noticeable deformity or “bump” under the skin

If a fractured bone is sticking out through the skin, go to the nearest emergency care center for immediate medical attention.

Treatment Options for Shoulder & Elbow Fractures

Dr. Joy will order x-rays of the injured area to confirm the fracture and determine a treatment plan. In many cases, shoulder and elbow fractures can be treated without surgery. However, if the fracture is more complex and requires surgical intervention, Dr. Joy has extensive experience with surgical treatment options as well.

Treatments for shoulder & elbow fractures may include the following:

  • Applying a cast or splint to hold the bones in place as they heal. This is typically done if the fracture is stable after the bones have been repositioned.
  • Surgery to place plates and screws to hold the bones together. This may be done if the fracture is less stable, or if the bone has fractured into multiple pieces.
  • Shoulder replacement surgery may be recommended for proximal humerus fractures if the ball portion of the shoulder joint has completely broken off from the rest of the bone. Shoulder replacement may also be recommended for elderly patients to help them maintain their independence after a shoulder injury.
  • Elbow replacement may be recommended for more severe elbow fractures. This procedure may also be recommended for older patients with fragile bone quality, when repairing the broken fragments are not possible. These factors make it more difficult for the fracture to heal.

In all cases, Dr. Joy sees patients for frequent followup visits, especially within the first 6 weeks of treatment. During these visits, takes x-rays to ensure the bones are remaining in place and evaluate the patient’s progress in healing.

Recovering from Shoulder & Elbow Fractures

Many patients with shoulder and elbow fractures stay in the hospital for 1 - 2 nights, especially in cases where surgery was needed. Medications will be given to help manage pain.

Full recovery ultimately depends on the type of fracture, the severity of the fracture, and the patient’s progress in healing. Generally speaking, shoulder and elbow fractures can take six weeks to several months to completely heal. However, every patient will progress at a different pace, and Dr. Joy creates individualized treatment and recovery plans for fracture cases for this reason. Frequent followup visits allow Dr. Joy to evaluate the patient’s progress and determine when it is safe to resume activities.

Rehabilitation is also an important part of recovery. Dr. Joy will advise when it is safe to begin moving the shoulder or elbow. Patients may choose to work with a physical therapist for rehabilitation, or Dr. Joy can demonstrate at-home exercises to help regain joint function after a shoulder or elbow fracture.

Shoulder & Elbow Fracture Treatment in Tinley Park, IL

Dr. Edward Joy has extensive experience in treating shoulder and elbow fractures, including complex cases, with surgical and nonsurgical methods. He also trained at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic for shoulder and elbow surgery. He develops customized treatment plans for each fracture patient based on their needs. If you would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Joy, please call our office at (708) 429-3455 or request an appointment online.

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Tinley Park

6850 W. Centennial Drive, Tinley Park, IL 60477