Broken Arm Overview
A broken or fractured arm means that one or more of the bones of the arm have been cracked. This is a common injury occurring in both children and adults. In adults, fractures of the arm account for nearly half of all broken bones. In children, fractures of the forearm are second only to broken collarbones.
The arm consists of 3 major bones. The humerus runs from the shoulder to the elbow. This is called the upper arm, or, simply, the arm. At the elbow, the humerus connects with 2 bones: the radius and the ulna. These bones go from the elbow to the wrist and are regarded as the forearm.
Broken Arm Causes
Almost all injuries to the arm that result in a broken bone are caused in 2 ways: falls and direct trauma.
- The typical fall that produces a fracture occurs when you fall on your outstretched hand. The location of the fracture can be from the wrist up to the shoulder depending on the direction of the fall, the age of the person, and other factors that modify the stresses applied to the bone.
- Direct trauma can be from a direct blow from an object such as a bat, the trauma during a car accident, or any accident that causes the direct application of force to a part of the arm.
Broken Arm Symptoms
Most broken arms have these symptoms:
- A large amount of pain and increased pain when moving the arm
- Maybe an obvious deformity compared to the other arm
- Possible open wound either from the bone puncturing the skin or from the skin being cut during the injury
- Decreased sensation or inability to move the limb, which may indicate nerve damage
When to Seek Medical Care
Call your doctor after an accident if these signs are present:
- Significant pain that is not relieved by ice and home pain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin)
- A large amount of swelling or mild deformity of the arm compared to the opposite arm
- Significant pain with use or limited use of the affected arm
- Pain in one specific part of the arm when it is pressed
Your doctor may advise you to go directly to a hospital's emergency department. Under the following conditions, go directly to the hospital for emergency care:
- Visible bone sticking out through the skin
- Heavy bleeding from an open wound
- Complete lack of movement or sensation of part of the arm
- Obvious deformity that looks drastically different from the usual appearance
- Loss of consciousness
- Many other injuries
Exams and Tests
The initial evaluation by any physician, in the office or in the emergency department, begins with a thorough history and physical exam. By finding out the details of the accident, the doctor is able to determine what damage was done based on the mechanism of the trauma.