Olecranon Fracture

Last Tuesday while on my way to work, I fell off my bike at 11th and Market. It happened so fast, I’m not entirely sure why I fell, but I believe I was braking to avoid some bikes ahead of me when my front tire came in contact with the streetcar tracks, which caused my bike to slide out from under me.

I hit the pavement hard. The entire impact of the fall was concentrated on my left elbow—there wasn’t a scratch anywhere else on me. Thankfully no other bikes or cars were involved. My arm swelled up, but since I could still move my fingers I didn’t think anything was broken. Until I saw the x-ray.

Justin left elbow not good

On Friday evening I had surgery to fix the fracture, which involved fastening a metal plate to my elbow with a whopping 8 screws drilled into the bone. Check out my new bionic elbow.

Justin left elbow better

Here’s a updated x-ray of my new elbow, taken ten days after my surgery:

Justin left elbow better

Update, December 7, 2017

Having a metal L-bracket in my left elbow was both annoying and cool. Annoying because it kind of hurt to lean my left elbow or arm on hard flat surfaces (like all tables, desks, etc), but cool because I had a metal elbow 🤘. At least I had regained complete range of motion.

At the beginning of 2016 I considered having it taken out, but balked at the idea of eating my high deductible (again) for something that was just mildly annoying. That all changed last June. I was hiking Mt. Diablo pretty aggressively (i.e. with hiking poles) and then mid-hike, I felt something tight in my left sleeve. I reached over to feel my elbow and discovered that it had swelled to the size of a tennis ball. I didn’t know if I’d hit it absentmindedly or gotten stung by something, but I was alarmed that it was my left elbow—maybe a screw had come loose!? I cut my hike short, Stephanie took me to urgent care, and the doctor took one look at me and said bursitis: a swelling of the bursa, a small cushion in the elbow that tends to afflict people who lean on their elbows a lot—or people with metal elbows. Ready to be freaked out? Here’s how it looked:

Justin left elbow swollen due to bursitis
Bursitis 😟

The only problem is that I was training for a massive rim-to-rim-to-rim hike of the Grand Canyon with my bro—the very next weekend. The swelling went down after a few days, and I tried to take it easy on my elbow during hike, but it started to swell again on our way into the canyon, which forced me to give up my left hiking pole for the rest of the hike, and I think compromised my stamina. From that point on my metal elbow was numbered. It swelled up once more for no real reason the weekend after the hike, but since then it’s just been a little more mushy and pronounced. I wanted it to fully heal before pursuing surgery, then came France, selling our condo, etc…I finally ended up scheduling the surgery for right after Thanksgiving. I took a metal elbow selfie to send to my family the night before surgery, but it’s the photo Stephanie took of me the morning of, after my arm had been half-shaved, that really shows off its “Popeye profile”.

Justin metal elbow selfie and shaved arm before surgery
Metal elbow selfie and shaved arm before surgery

The surgery was a success. I had very little pain, and I was pretty much using my arm like normal two days later. This week I had the sutures and bandages removed, so here’s the latest x-ray, showing the holes in my ulna. Apparently it’ll take a few months to fully heal.

X-ray of Justin's left elbow after metal implant was removed
X-ray after removal of metal implant

6 Comments

Craig

Hope you heal fast, Justin. Be safe on those SF streets, my friend.

Julie

Sending you lot of healing vibes :) Bisousssssss

marge

Just saw this today. Ouch! Hope you are rehabbing well and following ALL the orders of both the physical and occupational therapists.

Anna

Hi! Thank you very much for your videos on you tube. I was wondering, if you can share
some exersises that you perform during physiotherapy sessions. I did break my elbow 4 weeks ago (distal humerus) and got same problem with range of motion. I am agetting physiotherapy, but do not. see too much progress yet. Thank you very much, Anna

Anna, I did a number of different exercises with a Theraband as prescribed by my physical therapist. Though I’m sure you can find examples of such exercises on YouTube, I would hesitate recommending anything not prescribed by your physio. If you are not getting good results, perhaps consider seeking out another.

Jiro

Love those screw holes in your radius and ulna. Very cool. Gonna miss those when they are gone I bet. I love that swollen elbow. That is amazing. Just a couple of screws and everything goes crazy!

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