How to Care for an Elbow Fracture
Your child has sustained a fracture, or broken bone, close to the elbow. Some children have fractures that may need only a cast for the bone to heal. Others may need to go to the operating room to have pins put in the bone to hold it in place while healing takes place.
If your child needs to have pins placed in the bone, a cast will be applied over the pins after the surgery is completed. The pins will be removed at the doctor's office after healing has taken place.
There may be some swelling of the hand and / or fingers for two to five days after the fracture. Keep the elbow and hand elevated for the first two to three days by lying down on a couch or bed and propping the arm up with pillows; keep elbow and hand above the level of the heart.
Keeping an ice bag on the elbow will also help to reduce the swelling. Cover the bags of ice with a dry thin towel to protect the cast from getting wet. If swelling or pain increases, or fingers become numb, notify the orthopaedic nurse or doctor.
Check your child's fingers daily for movement, feeling and circulation during the first couple of days following surgery and / or cast placement. Notify your child's doctor of any decrease in circulation, decrease in the ability to move the fingers, or decreased feeling (numbness) in the fingers.
Encourage your child to move his / her fingers.
Keep the cast dry and clean. Waterproof casts cannot be used for fractures with pins in place.
Your child's doctor will order pain medication for you to give your child at home. Follow the directions on the label carefully. If the pain medicine does not work, call the orthopaedic nurse or doctor.
Pin Tract Infection
About three percent of patients can develop a pin tract infection. This usually occurs if the cast gets wet. Call your doctor if the cast gets wet.
Signs of infection include:
- Increasing elbow pain or fussiness after the first week
- Drainage out of the cast
If your child develops any of these symptoms, call the orthopaedic nurse or doctor.
Baths Only; No Showers
You should place a plastic bag over the casted arm and tape it tight at the top (at the armpit). Never submerge the arm or allow water to run over it. Place the casted arm on the side of the tub and watch the child to make sure he or she keeps the cast out of the water.
If it should get wet, immediately dry with a blow dryer using the cool setting only. If this does not dry the cast, call your doctor immediately for further instructions. A wet cast can cause infection if not taken care of right away.
Your child should avoid any activities that may increase the likelihood of tripping and falling. When your child feels well enough and is no longer requiring narcotic pain medicine, he / she may return to school wearing a sling.
Place a safety pin between the two sling layers, just in front of the elbow, to help keep the sling from sliding off of the arm.
After healing takes place your child may have elbow stiffness that lasts for three to four weeks after the cast is removed. Children often hold their arm for the first few hours after their cast is removed due to elbow stiffness. The stiffness usually goes away spontaneously within a month after cast removal.
Elbow pins are usually removed in the office in a matter of seconds. Although patients may be anxious or cry, the pain is minimal or not painful at all. We usually place an ace wrap over the pin sites, which can be replaced with a band-aid the next day.
Physical therapy is usually not necessary. Patients are allowed to swim once the skin pin holes have closed up (usually one to two days after cast removal), and your child can play sports once they have near full motion (approximately one to four weeks after cast removal).
Your child's provider will tell you when your child needs to return for follow-up care. Make this appointment at the desk before leaving or call the office as soon as you can to make the appointment.
X-rays will be taken to determine how the healing is progressing.