A broken arm can engage any of the three major bones in your arm: the radius bone, ulna bone, or humerus bone. The most frequent cause of a broken arm is falling onto an extended hand. It is essential to treat a broken arm immediately to ensure proper healing occurs. A minor break usually only requires a sling and some rest. A severe and more complicated break may require surgery, as the bone may need to be realigned. The surgeon may install screws or plates in your arm to make sure the bone stays in its proper place. When your arm breaks, there will be a loud cracking sound or snap and severe pain will develop almost immediately. There may be swelling and tenderness or an obvious deformity. Other symptoms include the inability to turn your arm from palm down to palm up or move your arm at all, and significant stiffness.
Falling onto an outstretched elbow or hand is the most common cause of a broken arm. The impact and trauma of the fall causes one of the extended bones to break. This can happen in your house, at work, or while playing sports. It is a common injury in football, as a player may use their arm to break a fall, resulting in a break. Direct blows to the arm on the court or field can also cause a broken arm. This can result from a tackle in football or body check in hockey, or from a slash in lacrosse or hockey. Although uncommon, a broken arm can result while playing baseball as a result of being hit by a pitch. The location of the break can be from the shoulder down to the rest depending on the direction of the fall among other factors.
When your arm breaks, it is important to stabilize the arm immediately. This can be done by making a sling out of a towel or other similar object. Place the sling around the neck and under the arm to stop additional arm movements from making the injury worse and minimizing the swelling and pain. You should also apply ice to the arm. Ice will help numb the area and reduce pain and swelling. Place an ice pack on the break for 20 to 30 minutes at a time. Make sure it is wrapped in a thin cloth to help protect the skin. You will need to go to the hospital. If it is a minor break, the doctor may put a splint or cast on you to keep the injured area stabilized. The doctor will also prescribe pain medication. If the break is severe, you may need to stay in the hospital and have surgery. Surgery may be required if the bone has broken through the skin, fractures have damaged nerves in the arm, or there are severe lacerations near the break.
The healing and recovery time depends entirely on the severity of the break, as well as your age and overall health. Most common breaks heal within 6 weeks, although more severe breaks that require surgery may take longer. When your arm is still immobilized, you can begin gentle range of motion exercises with your fingers, wrist, and hand. Once your cast is removed, you can improve your range of motion in your elbow and shoulder as well. Stretching exercises are very important to rehabbing a broken arm, as it will improve the flexibility of the muscles in the upper arm and forearm. Strength exercises are also effective, but only after the break is healed. Avoid beginning strength or rehab programs without talking to your doctor first, and stop immediately if you feel pain or discomfort. It is important to avoid rushing your recovery, as this will only make the injury worse. Boston Children’s Hospital has more information on broken arms and effective treatments.