Broken Arm

What is a Broken Arm?

When a person suffers from a broken arm, they have damaged one or more of the three bones in the limb. These bones are the radius, the humerus, and the ulna.  A broken arm can vary in severity and type of break.

A hairline fracture is perhaps the most minor type of broken arm. This is a thin, tiny crack in a bone in the arm. On the other hand, the bones in the arm could break entirely, cracking all the way through the bone. These breaks can even protrude through the skin of the arm.

There are many different ways in which  a person could break their arm. The most common of these causes is a fall onto an arm that is outstretched or the person is trying to stop their fall with their arms. However, car accidents, sports accidents or injuries, physical abuse (like child or domestic abuse), or other forms of traumatic injuries can also cause this kind of fracture.

What are the Symptoms of a Broken Arm?

When a bone in the arm breaks, there may be a cracking or snapping sound that the person can hear. However, this is not always the case. The most common symptom of a broken arm is severe pain, though sometimes the pain may be dull or aching as well. Swelling and bruising are also common signs of a broken arm. An unusual bend, curve, or bulge in the arm is also an indication of a broken arm as is being unable to properly turn or bend the arm.

Broken Arm Causes

A broken arm results when any of the three arm bones (ulna, radius, and humerus) become fractured, either by a simple break or a compound break.

The causes may be accidental or intentional:

  • Falling from a height, particularly when landing on an outstretched hand
  • Tripping and falling over an obstacle from a standing position
  • Sliding on a slippery surface, such as an icy sidewalk, and falling
  • Slick-soled or high-heeled shoes that compromise balance and cause falls
  • Injury from accidents e.g. automobile, bicycles
  • Injuries from playing sports, particularly contact sports
  • Blunt-force trauma; a direct blow to the arm
  • Low-impact bump to an arm that’s already weakened by disease, such as osteoporosis, or illness, such as cancer
  • Forceful twisting or jerking of the arm, particularly by adults being too rough with children or the elderly
  • Extreme twisting of the upper arm that causes severe muscle contractions, such as throwing a ball
  • Consuming too much alcohol, which causes sleepiness and dizziness, dulls reflexes, slows response times, impairs balance, and promotes risky behaviors — all of which can lead to falls and other injuries to the arm

How is a Broken Arm Treated?

When a treatment plan is designed for a broken arm, there are numerous factors considered. If the bone has suffered numerous breaks or has become displaced (meaning the pieces of the broken arm bone are not aligned), the first step in treatment will be setting the bone. Broken arms may also require immobilization with casts, slings, or splints, and even surgery if the break will not or cannot heal through immobilization alone.

Broken Arm Prevention

Although all breaks are not preventable, many injuries can be avoided with strategies that include improving health, protecting the arm, and making safety modifications to a home or work environment.

Increase strength and balance by:

  • Walking
  • Doing exercises that specifically strengthen muscles and improve balance
  • Adopting a smoke-free lifestyle
  • Eating a healthy diet and meeting recommendations for vitamin D and calcium
  • Limiting alcohol intake

Wear protective wrist and elbow guards when engaging in sports activities, such as skating, skiing, football, and rugby.

Prevent falls by:

  • Wearing practical shoes
  • Removing potential trip hazards in your home, such as loose rugs
  • Attaching rubber grips to rugs to keep them in place
  • Making an appointment with your eye doctor to make sure your vision is not impaired
  • Keeping your eyeglass or contact prescription up-to-date
  • Installing and using handrails at stairs (inside and outside)
  • Installing and using safety bars and rails in the bathroom
  • Keeping walkways free of snow, ice, and fallen leaves

Take all medications as prescribed, being aware that many medications can compromise your balance.

Such as:

  • Cold and cough medications
  • Muscle relaxers
  • Tranquilizers
  • Some heart medication
  • Diuretics
  • Blood-pressure medication
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Last Reviewed:
September 13, 2016
Last Updated:
November 21, 2017