Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Brain & Nervous System Health Center

Font Size

Brain Adapts Quickly to a Broken Arm

Shifts in the Brain Improve Skills So You're Not a Klutz for Long, Study Shows
By Cari Nierenberg
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 16, 2012 -- Breaking an arm and wearing a sling or a cast is a real inconvenience, to say the least. When it's the arm you depend on to eat, write, dress, brush your teeth, bathe, and do most everything, well, that's when all the fun begins.

But Swiss researchers have discovered that the brain adjusts quickly to a broken limb. It doesn't take long -- perhaps a week or two -- before shifts in the brain occur so people can adapt to their new circumstances and be less clumsy in using their other arm.

A new study has shown that two weeks after a broken arm, there's an increase in the size of the brain areas needed to compensate for the injury, and a decrease in areas of the brain not being used while in a sling or cast. This rapid reorganization of the brain allows someone who is usually right-handed, for example, to transfer skills to the left hand while the hurt arm heals.

This finding is not only important for those with broken arms who temporarily need to rely on their less-used limb. It may also apply to people who are recovering from a stroke and working to regain lost motor skills.

"These results are especially interesting for rehabilitation therapy for people who've had strokes or other issues," researcher Nicolas Langer, MSc, says in a news release. He is a neuropsychology researcher at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

The study is published in the journal Neurology.

How the Brain Adapts

In this small study, researchers asked 10 healthy people who were right-handed and broke a bone in their upper arm to have two MRIs. The first brain scan took place within two days of the injury and a second one occurred a little more than two weeks after getting a sling or cast.

Scientists tested how well the usual right-handers could move their left hand and use it to perform various tasks. Scans allowed them to see how certain regions of the brain had adapted to people having their dominant hand immobilized for at least 14 days.

Today on WebMD

nerve damage
Learn how this disease affects the nervous system.
senior woman with lost expression
Know the early warning signs.
woman in art gallery
Tips to stay smart, sharp, and focused.
medical marijuana plant
What is it used for?
senior man
boy hits soccer ball with head
red and white swirl
marijuana plant
brain illustration stroke
nerve damage
Alzheimers Overview
Graphic of number filled head and dna double helix