Broken Arm

A broken arm is a common injury. About one in every 20 fractures involves the humerus , the bone in the upper arm. Children are more likely to break the lower arm bones (radius and ulna).

Most broken arms are caused by falling on an outstretched hand or being involved in a car crash or some other type of accident.

Most people know immediately if their arm is broken. There may be a snap or a loud cracking sound. The arm may appear deformed and be swollen, bruised, and bleeding. There is usually extreme pain at the site of the injury which is increased by movement. As a result, the affected arm is not used normally.

Diagnosis is made on clinical examination. Associated injuries to the surrounding nerves and tendons will be looked for. X-rays or other diagnostic imaging tools are used to look at the bones of both the injured and uninjured arms. This is important particularly in children as the long bones of the arm are still growing. Examination for damage to the growth plates is very important.

Before immobilising the arm to protect the fracture site, it is important that the broken bones are correctly aligned. This procedure is called a closed reduction. Depending upon the severity of injury and the age of the patient, an anaesthetic may be needed for this to occur. Patients with more serious fractures may require surgery to properly realign the bones. This is called an open reduction.

Once the bones are correctly aligned, the arm is immobilised with a cast or splint (fracture bracing).

It may take from several weeks to several months for the broken arm to heal completely. Rehabilitation involves gradually increasing activities to restore muscle strength, joint motion and flexibility until the muscles, ligaments, and other soft tissues perform their functions normally.