Arm Fractures

By Medically reviewed by Panel Perubatan Hello Doktor

In this article:

  • Knowing the basics
  • Identifying the symptoms
  • Determining the causes
  • Reducing the risk factors
  • Understanding the diagnosis & treatment
  • Treating the condition through lifestyle changes & home remedies

Knowing the basics

What is an arm fracture?

A broken bone is commonly known as a fracture. An arm fracture involves one or more of the three bones in your arm – ulna, radius, and humerus.

The prevalence of arm fractures

Arm fractures are common injuries that occur in both children and adults. In adults, arm fractures account for nearly half of all fractures. In children, fractures of the forearm are second only to broken collarbones.

Identifying the symptoms

What are the signs and symptoms of arm fractures?

Common symptoms of arm fractures are:

  • A snap or cracking sound
  • Severe pain, which might increase with movement
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Deformities, such as a bent arm or wrist
  • Inability to turn your arm from palm up to palm down or vice versa

There may be other symptoms that could show when you have an arm fracture. Please consult a doctor if you experience any abnormalities. 

When do I need to see a doctor?

If you have severe pain in your arm that limits your ability to use it normally, seek medical attention immediately.

Determining the causes

What causes an arm fracture?

Almost all injuries to the arm which result in broken bones are caused by two main factors: falls and direct trauma.

  • Arm fractures caused by falls occur when you cushion the impact on an outstretched hand. The location of the fracture can be from the wrist up to the shoulder depending on the direction of the fall, the person’s age, and other factors that modify the stresses applied to the bone.
  • Direct trauma can be caused by a blow from an object such as a bat, car accident or any other accident that causes direct application of force to a specific part of the arm.

Reducing the risk factors

What factors increase the risk of an arm fracture?

Certain medical conditions or physical activities can increase the risk of a broken arm.

  • Certain sports. Any sport that involves physical contact or increases your risk of falling, such as football, gymnastics, skiing, and skateboarding, would increase the risk of a broken arm.

  • Bone abnormalities. Conditions that weaken bones, such as osteoporosis and bone tumors, increase your risk of a broken arm. This type of fracture is known as a pathological fracture.

Understanding the diagnosis & treatment

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

How is an arm fracture diagnosed?

The doctor will examine the arm to detect any pain, swelling, deformation or open wounds. After discussing the symptoms and causes of injury, an x-ray may be required to determine the location and severity of the fracture. Other imaging diagnostics such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be recommended for a more detailed look.

How is an arm fracture treated?

For arm fractures, the vital aspect of first aid is immobilising the broken arm using a sling. Put it under your arm and then wrap it around your neck. An alternative approach to keep the arm from moving is to fashion a rolled-up newspaper into a splint, tie along the swollen area and tape it in place.

You can also apply ice to the injured area. This can help reduce pain and swelling. Put some ice cubes into a bag and place it on your injured arm for 20–30 minutes at a time. A towel should be placed around the ice bag or between the ice bag and skin to protect it from getting too cold. Avoid using ice directly on the skin.

The most important aspect of treating fractures is to determine the ones that can be treated with outpatient care and those that require hospitalisation.

In most cases, a broken arm will be treated in the emergency department.

Most fractures will need to have a splint or partial cast applied to stabilise the broken bones. Some fractures, especially in the upper arm and shoulder, may only need to be immobilised in a sling.

In addition to splinting a broken arm, a doctor would prescribe medication to subdue pain and recommend ice application to reduce swelling.

Typically, situations that require hospitalisation are:

  • Bones that have impaled the skin or caused lacerations over the affected area
  • Fractures that are associated with nerve damage
  • Fractures that are associated with blood vessel damage
  • Complicated fractures that have multiple breaks points, involving the joints or are unable to be stabilised in the emergency department or doctor’s office.

Most cases of arm fractures do not require hospitalisation. For all other types of fracture, the doctor might refer you to an orthopedic (bone specialist). The orthopedic surgeon will then determine the next course of action (continue to apply a splint, a cast or undergo surgery) depending on the type of fracture.

How long does an arm fracture take to heal?

Similar to leg fractures, the recovery time of a broken arm is very difficult to determine. It would depend on the location and severity of the injury but usually takes 4-6 weeks to heal. During this time, you should regularly visit the doctor to gauge the speed of recovery and practice hand therapy.

In order to speed up the recovery time, you should get ample rest and reduce physically demanding activities. You should also add calcium, vitamin D, and fruits to your diet to accelerate recovery time for the fractured bone. 

Treating the condition through lifestyle changes & home remedies

The following lifestyle and home remedies may help you cope with an arm fracture:

  • Use any assistive device (such as a splint, hook or sling) until you see a doctor.
  • Keep the splint or cast clean and dry.
  • Apply ice to the injured area 4-5 times a day for 20-30 minutes.
  • Keep your broken arm up higher than your heart to reduce swelling. Use pillows to support your arm when you are in bed or sitting in a chair.
  • Take pain medication as prescribed. Do not drink or drive if you are taking narcotic analgesics.
  • Seek medical help if your pain increases and causes loss of sensation or if your fingers or hands turn cold or pale.

If you are concerned about any red flags with your health, please consult a doctor for advice on the best treatment.

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

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Sources