A broken arm is a fracture or break in any one of the arm bones - this could be the Humerus (above the elbow) or the Radius or Ulna (in the forearm). A broken bone and a fractured bone are the same thing and the terms are interchangeable.
Symptoms of a Broken Arm
The symptoms will vary slightly depending on the grade of injury. The symptoms listed here start with those present in all grades and become gradually more severe.
- Sudden pain following an acute trauma to the arm.
- Pain increases when trying to move the arm.
- It may be difficult to bend the arm if the fracture is near the elbow.
- The arm may appear deformed.
- If the bone pierces the skin this is called an open fracture.
- Tingling or numbness anywhere below the fracture site indicates nerve damage.
A broken arm is a common injury in adults and children. In adults, fractures to any of the arm bones account for half of all fractures.
Broken arms usually occur as a result of a force to the arm, such as a fall onto an outstretched arm, or an impact to the arm when it is raised away from the body. Car accidents are another common cause.
There are some specific forms of arm fractures which are covered in more detail elsewhere:
Broken arm treatment
If you suspect a broken arm it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. The arm should be X-rayed to confirm the diagnosis and to assess the extent of the fracture and any associated injuries. A doctor will also assess the arm, checking for any possible complications such as nerve of blood vessel damage.
With straight forward fractures (i.e. where the bone has not broken the skin, has fractured into no more than 2 parts, with no displacement) then the arm is placed into a cast for a period of 4-8 weeks until the bone has healed. Initially it may be placed in a splint or a half cast for the first few days until swelling has eased before the full cast is applied.
In more complicated cases, further treatment may be required. The bone may need to be reduced (re-aligned) if the fracture is displaced. This can be done either closed (without surgery) by manipulating the bones, or open (during surgery).
Surgery may also be required if the bone is broken into more than two pieces. In this case they will require fixing in place using wires, pins, plates or sometimes an external cage type device. Repair to other structures may also be attempted whilst surgery is being performed.
Following surgery the arm is again immobilised for a number of weeks, before a rehabilitation programme can begin.