Next Steps Follow-up
Most broken arms will not require admission to the hospital. For all other fractures, the treating doctor will suggest you follow up with an orthopedic doctor (bone specialist). At that time, the orthopedist will determine what further care (continued splinting, casting, or surgery) is necessary based on the type of fracture.
Additional follow-up instructions for fractures include the following:
- Wear any support device (splint, sling, or brace, for example) until the doctor sees you for follow-up.
- Keep your splint or cast clean and dry.
- Apply ice to the injured area for 20-30 minutes 4-5 times a day.
- Keep your arm elevated above the heart as much as possible to decrease swelling. Use pillows to prop your arm while in bed or sitting in a chair.
- Take pain medicine as prescribed. Do not drink or drive if you are taking narcotic pain medication.
- Call your doctor for increased pain, loss of sensation, or if your fingers or hand turn cold or blue.
There are 2 main ways to help prevent a broken arm.
- Wear appropriate personal safety equipment as protection. Wearing car seat belts, using wrist guards for in-line skating and skateboarding, and wearing appropriate pads for contact sports are all good ways to prevent bone fractures.
- Prevent and treat osteoporosis-the disease causing bone loss especially in older women. These women tend to have more fractures as they age. In this group, the use of calcium supplements and estrogen replacement would help to reduce the number of fractures resulting from weakened bones. The best treatment for osteoporosis is prevention. This is best done early in life by building stronger bones through a good diet and exercise. Women of all ages should discuss techniques for prevention and treatment of ongoing osteoporosis with their doctor.
The majority of fractures heal and normal arm movement is restored.
Many of these factors based on the individual injury and medical history may determine the final outcome of a broken bone:
- Earlier treatment usually improves results.
- Fractures in younger children and adolescents tend to heal better.
- Fractures that have multiple breaks, involve a joint, have open wounds, or become infected could have healing complications.
- Older adults have increased chance of losing some ability or movement in the broken arm.
- Chronic diseases such as osteoporosis and diabetes may slow the healing process.
Media file 1: Fractured forearm of both bones (radius and ulna). Photos courtesy of Courtney Bethel, MD, and Anthony Dean, MD.
Media file 2: Forearm fracture with multiple fragments
Media file 3: Upper arm fracture after casting
Media file 4: Forearm fracture (ulna) after splint application
Media file 5: Broken shoulder (humerus)
Media file 6: Fracture of the forearm in a child