Complex Elbow Fracture Surgery

There are several surgical options available to treat complex elbow fractures. The optimal choice depends on the specific nature and severity of the fracture, as well as the patient’s overall health and lifestyle.

  1. Open Reduction and Internal Fixation (ORIF): This involves a surgical opening of the fracture site, realignment of the broken bones, and use of metal hardware (such as screws and plates) to hold the bones in place as they heal.
  2. Radial Head Replacement: If the radial head of the elbow is damaged beyond repair, it can be replaced with a metal implant. This procedure is often used in cases with severe fractures that cannot be repaired with ORIF.
  3. Elbow Replacement: In extremely severe cases, particularly in older patients with poor bone quality, the entire elbow joint may be replaced with an artificial joint.

Expected Surgery Outcome

The goal of surgery for a complex elbow fracture is to restore as much function to the elbow as possible. With successful surgery and adherence to post-operative protocols, most patients can expect significant improvement in pain and range of motion. The specific outcome will vary based on the severity of the fracture, the type of surgery performed, and the patient’s individual circumstances.

Potential surgery complications and risks

Complications are relatively rare, but can occur. These include infection, nerve injury leading to weakness or numbness, and complications related to the implants such as loosening or breakage.


  • Infection: All surgical procedures carry a risk of infection, which can lead to serious complications if not promptly treated.
  • Nerve Damage: There’s a risk of damage to the nerves near the elbow, resulting in numbness or weakness.
  • Implant complications: The screws, plates, or prosthetic joint used in surgery might loosen or break over time, necessitating additional surgery.
  • Stiffness: The elbow may become stiff and lose some range of motion following surgery.

Recovery after surgery

Post-operative care is crucial to successful recovery. Following surgery, patients typically wear a splint or cast for 1 to 2 weeks to protect the repair. Physiotherapy, including range-of-motion and strengthening exercises, usually begins soon after surgery. Full recovery, including return to heavy manual work or sports, generally takes between 3 and 6 months, although this can vary based on individual circumstances.