A broken arm can involve a fracture to one of the three main bones in the arm: the humerous, ulna, and radius. Fractures to these bones are common, often occurring as a result of an accident or fall onto an outstretched arm.
When an arm bone is fractured, most people can tell right away because they hear or feel a cracking, popping or snap at the site of the injury. In other cases, a person may know they are injured but be unsure as to whether the arm suffered fracture, strain or sprain.
The symptoms of a broken arm can include:
- Abnormalities to the arm, including swelling, bumps, bruising, and bleeding
- The appearance of the bone protruding through the skin (a sure sign of an open fracture)
- Extreme pain at the injury site
- Loss of normal movement in the arm
- Pain with movement
Diagnosing a broken arm
When a patient seeks medical treatment for a broken arm, they should tell the doctor the details of the accident so that they can have a better sense of the nature of the injury. From there, the doctor will carefully examine the broken arm and check for additional injuries, including nerve damage. X-rays and other diagnostic tests may also be preformed to determine the type of fracture sustained and its severity.
In children, the long bones of the arm are still growing. For this reason, the doctor should also examine the growth plates to determine if they have sustained any damage.
Treatment of a broken arm
First Aid Care
If you are on the scene of an accident or injury where someone is suspected of breaking his or her arm, it is important to know the following advice:
- First ensure the person is out of harm’s way and stabilized, checking to make sure breath and pulse are okay.
- If the person is seriously bleeding or may have multiple broken bones or other injuries, call emergency responders. Applying pressure and elevating the arm can slow bleeding, but be very careful when handling the injured arm.
- If a bone is protruding from the arm, do not attempt to push it back in, as this can cause further damage to the bone and surrounding tissues
- Do not try to move a broken are, for the same reasons just mentioned.
- Bring the injured person to the hospital for medical treatment, trying to immobilize the arm as best as possible before transport (i.e. with a sling).
If the fractured bone has been re-located, a doctor may need to perform “reduction” to move the pieces of bone back into the correct position. This can be done with or without anesthesia, depending on the severity of the fracture. After reduction, the patient’s arm will be stabilized using a cast or splint. For some patients, surgery may be required to treat a fracture.
Broken Arm Recovery
Complete recovery of a broken arm can take anywhere from several weeks to many months, depending on the nature of the injury and other factors. Rehabilitation requires the gradual re-introduction of physical movement and activities that will help restore strength and movement to the arm. Doctors will often examine the arm periodically during the healing process to make sure that the arm is getting better.