Hairline Fractures of the Arm

What is a Hairline Fracture of the Arm or Elbow?

The quick answer is that hairline fractures, also called stress fractures, are tiny cracks in the bone. They usually develop gradually as a result of overuse, as opposed to regular fractures that are usually caused by a trauma. While Hairline fractures will usually heal with sufficient rest, they can be painful and last 4 to 6 weeks.

Hairline fractures are often associated with overuse and are most common in the lower extremities. They are less common in the arm, but they may occur and are more likely to be the result of a fall rather than overuse.  To learn more about stress fractures, go to Stress Fractures and to hairline fractures of the wrist.

How Do Hairline Fractures Occur?

Bones are rigid but have a degree of elasticity that allows them to react to specific movements. When strain is continuously placed on a bone over time, microscopic cracks can develop –this is usually how a Hairline fracture occurs. Hairline fractures of the arm or lower extremity can be hard to notice, but a dull pain continues to persist over time. Symptoms may mimic a sprained elbow but you should consult with an MD. JOI Treats Hairline Fractures of the arm. An X-ray can determine if you have a hair line fractureHairline or Stress Fractures of the Arm

Symptoms of a Hairline Fracture:

  • Localized Swelling.
  • Tenderness to touch.
  • Bruising.
  • Reduced pain at rest.

JOI Hairline Fracture of the arm or cracked elbow. Hairline fracture in elbowHairline Fracture of the Arm or cracked elbow

Risk Factors For a Hairline Fracture:

  • High impact sports.
  • Gender:  More common in women past menopause due to the decrease in estrogen levels.
  • Bone problems: Conditions that weaken bones such as osteoporosis, or medications that affect bone density and strength.
  • Diet imbalances: Lack of the right nutrients (such as calcium or vitamin D) can weaken bones. People with eating disorders are also at risk as they can be missing some essential nutrients.
  • Improper technique: During exercise or activity.
  • Improper equipment.

How are Hairline Fractures in the Arm Diagnosed?

A doctor will perform an examination first and assess the person’s reaction to pressure placed over the painful area or where the hairline fracture of the arm is suspected. Localized Pain in response to pressure is often key in helping your doctor to make a diagnosis.

  • X-ray: Hairline fractures in the arm often are not visible on X-rays immediately after injury. They often become visible a few weeks after the pain begins.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This is usually the best method of detecting a hairline fracture and often does a better job than X-ray of determining the type of fracture.
  • Nuclear bone scan: This can assess things such as a painful broken elbow or hairline fracture

Treatment of a Hairline Fracture Forearm Bones:

If you suspect a hairline fracture, the following are first aid treatments that can be performed prior to seeing a doctor:

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as acetaminophen can also help with pain.

Does a Hairline Fracture in the Arm need a Cast?

You may be issued a brace to use if the doctor feels it is necessary. The brace will aid in the prevention of further injury to the arm.

Hinge elbow brace for hairline fracture. JOI RehabHinge Elbow Brace

Can you still move your Arm with a Hairline Fracture?

Yes but you should still refrain from doing activities or exercises that can aggravate the injury. The fracture region is already very weak and further use can cause the fracture to worsen. Once the bone has healed the person can start resuming normal activities gradually.

Are Hairline Fractures Serious?

Although a hairline fracture may not be a serious as many other types of fractures, it still poses a big risk to the person. Always remember to get plenty of rest and consume foods that are high in calcium, essential minerals and protein.

How Long does it Take for a Hairline Fracture to Heal?

It usually takes up to six to eight weeks to completely heal from a hairline fracture. However, Ignoring symptoms from a hairline fracture can lead to a more serious fracture and can be more difficult to treat or result in a non-union fracture. This could increase the time it takes to heal.

Hairline Fracture In Elbow

One of the most common hairline fractures occurs in the elbow.  This is usually associated with repetitive throwing injuries.  It is the most common in young baseball athletes related to poor throwing techniques.  Here is a good ARTICLE to read about how to throw correctly.  A hairline fracture or a chip in the elbow with a throwing athlete is significant.  This means that the athlete was throwing too much or throwing with poor biomechanics.  It is important to be evaluated and treated by someone who specializes in throwing athletes.  JOI has several clinicians who specialize in the rehab process and biomechanics of throwing athletes. 

By: Laura Kreger, OT/CHT

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