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Definition

What is broken upper arm?

The humerus is the bone that extends from the shoulder to the elbow.

In otherwise healthy people, most fractures of the humerus are caused by a direct blow to the upper arm. This often is caused by a motor vehicle accident or high-impact fall. Less often, the humerus can fracture because of a severe twist of the upper arm, a fall on an outstretched arm, or an extreme contraction of upper arm muscles.

If the bone fractures because of an extreme muscle contraction, the break curves around the bone. This is sometimes called a “spiral fracture” or a “ball-thrower’s fracture.” These injuries are fairly rare.

If the humerus breaks because of a low-impact bump or fall, this may mean that the bone has been weakened by an illness, such as osteoporosis or cancer. These are called pathologic fractures. Cancer-related fractures of the upper arm bone tend to occur in older people. Trauma-related fractures of the humerus tend to affect younger people.

How common is broken upper arm?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of broken upper arm?

If you have had a fall or hit your arm you might feel or hear a snap or a cracking sound.

The main symptom is pain, which will be worse if you try to move your arm. A broken upper arm (fractured humerus) can be extremely painful, so much so that you may feel sick, dizzy or faint.

Other symptoms of a broken upper arm are:

  • You will be unable to use your arm.
  • Your elbow or upper arm may be swollen.
  • Your elbow or upper arm may bruise.
  • If it is a very severe break, your arm may be a different shape.
  • You may notice tingling or numbness.
  • There may be bleeding if the broken bone (or your fall) has damaged the skin.

If you have dislocated your shoulder at the same time as breaking your upper arm, you may also notice that your shoulder is out of place or deformed. There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

Call your doctor if your arm hurts severely or pain lasts after an injury. He or she can determine if a bone may be fractured.

You also should see a health care professional after an injury that results in numbness or weakness in the hand or wrist. This is true even if the injury itself seemed minor.

Causes

What causes broken upper arm?

If you break your upper arm, it is usually following a bad fall on to your elbow or shoulder or by something hitting it hard, such as being knocked down by a car. Falling on to your elbow or shoulder is likely to cause a broken upper arm (fractured humerus). You can also break your upper arm by falling on to your hand when your arm is straight, especially if it is out to your side.

If you are elderly, it is possible you have developed ‘thinning’ of the bones (osteoporosis). This makes it more likely that you will break your arm following a relatively minor fall or accident. Occasionally you can break your upper arm because you have developed a type of cancer that is affecting the bone and has made it so weak that it has cracked. This is called a pathological fracture.

In very small children their upper arm, particularly the shaft, can be broken by someone abusing them, by hitting or throwing them.

Young people who break the top of their upper arm (proximal fracture) are more likely than older people to have also dislocated their shoulder. This is because the amount of force needed to break a young person’s arm is large and therefore it is more likely to have done other damage too.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for broken upper arm?

Please consult your doctor for further information.

 

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is broken upper arm diagnosed?

The doctor will review your symptoms. He or she will want to know:

  • How and when your injury happened
  • Your medical history, especially any history of previous injuries to your arm, including your shoulder, elbow and wrist
  • The approximate date of your last tetanus immunization, if your injury broke the skin

Your doctor will compare your injured arm with your uninjured one. He or she will check for:

  • Swelling
  • Deformity
  • Abrasions
  • Bruising
  • Limited motion

Your doctor will press gently and feel along the length of your arm to identify any areas of tenderness.

Your doctor will feel your pulse and check your sensation and ability to move your arm and hand. This will help determine whether a sharp edge of broken bone has damaged any of your arm’s blood vessels or nerves.

The doctor will order X-rays of the injured bone. Sometimes additional X-rays of the joints directly above and below the fracture will be ordered as well. The X-rays will confirm the location and severity of your fracture.

How is broken upper arm treated?

The vast majority of humerus fractures are treated without surgery. The arm can heal after it is immobilized in a cast, a special splint or a functional brace.

Surgery may be needed for a more severe fracture, or any open fracture with exposed bone. The humerus will be repaired with plates and screws, or a metal rod. If you have an open fracture you will be given antibiotics intravenously (into a vein). Antibiotics help prevent infection in the exposed bone or nearby tissues.

Once your fractured humerus starts to heal, you will need physical therapy. Physical therapy helps to restore normal strength in your arm muscles. It also restores normal range of motion in your elbow and shoulder. A course of physical therapy for a fractured humerus usually takes several months.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage broken upper arm?

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

 

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: November 3, 2017 | Last Modified: November 3, 2017

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