Broken / Fractured Arm: Treatment, Causes, Symptoms, And Diagnosis

A Broken / Fractured Arm Over View

Broken Arm Overview Guide

Injury hands. Young man with broken arm. Young woman doctor helps the patient

A broken bone can take a heavy toll on your life, as it requires time to heal, needs to be protected from further injury in a cast or brace, and can physically prevent us from doing our day to day tasks if it needs to be immobilised. A broken arm can be especially difficult to manage, as it can impede us even in the simplest of tasks if it needs to be strapped up or kept in a cast.

There are different types of fractured arms, such as a fractured forearm, a hairline fracture in the arm, and even a broken arm with a bone sticking out, otherwise known as a compound fracture. Fractured arm treatment varies for each different kind of break and take different lengths of time to heal.

In this guide we will cover the common broken arm symptoms, as well as the causes, diagnosis and possible treatments available. Some of these treatments can include physiotherapy, which is used to help reduce your broken arm’s healing time. To see if you might qualify for free physiotherapy aftercare, contact our team today on 020 3870 4868, or use our online contact form.

Select A Section

  1. Overview Of A Broken Arm
  2. What Is A Fractured Arm?
  3. What Are The Common Types Of Arm Fractures?
  4. The Most Common Causes Of A Broken Arm
  5. Arm Fracture Symptoms
  6. At What Point Should You Seek Medical Attention For A Broken/Fractured Arm?
  7. How Long Is The Recovery Time For A Broken Arm?
  8. Broken Arm Vs Sprain
  9. Fractured Arm Diagnosis
  10. Treatment For A Broken Arm
  11. What Are The Long-Term And Short-Term Implications Of A Broken Arm?
  12. Contact Us For Treatment In Your Area
  13. Additional Reading

Overview Of A Broken Arm

To understand a broken arm, it can help to have a basic knowledge of the structure of the arm. In the upper arm is the humorous, and this connects to the elbow joint at the bottom, and the shoulder joint at the top. The forearm then is comprised of two bones, called the radius and the ulna. These two bones connect to the humorous at the top, then the wrist joint at the bottom.

Broken arms happen when any of the bones that make up the upper or forearm are fractured, either by an impact or great pressure, causing the bone to separate. A broken arm can happen as a result of a collision, falling over, while playing sport, etc. Anything that applies a heavy amount of pressure or a large enough impact could cause one or more of the bones in your arm to fracture, resulting in a break in the arm.

These can be treated by resetting the bones, also called a reduction, and then immobilising them either surgically or via a splint or cast. Diagnosing this type of injury can be done through a broken X-Ray. Recovery times can vary depending on the severity of the break, and if you had broken arm surgery, recovery times could also vary.

Although not every arm injury may require medical assistance, it can at times be difficult to know the extent of the damage inside. Therefore, it is usually advised that in cases where the damage seems less serious, but you still have symptoms after some time, you may wish to seek medical advice. Being aware of the fractured arm symptoms is important, as it will help you to decide if you might have to seek medical assistance.

Treatments for a broken arm can also vary, depending on the type of break. For more serious displacements and damage, surgery is usually required, otherwise a broken arm cast or support will be used to immobilise the arm as it heals.

What Is A Fractured Arm?

A fractured arm is when one or more bones in the arm have been damaged by an impact or pressure, and has resulted in a fracture to the bone, which can either break into two clean pieces or shatter into many. Broken arms can happen to people of any age, and for many different reasons. Broken arms may be more likely in those who suffer from osteoporosis, a condition that weakens the strength of your bones.

Due to the fact that the arm is connected to three joints, and has three different bones, a break could happen in many places. It is commonly advised that a broken arm not be left untreated. This is because the bones could begin to heal in the wrong position, resulting in deformity and loss of mobility, and a broken bone or bone shards could cause more damage inside the arm to blood vessels, tendons or nerves. This is why if you choose to see a doctor, they will perform a fractured arm X-Ray to determine the extent of the damage.

What Are The Common Types Of Arm Fractures?

The arm is separated in the middle by the elbow, and so fractures to the forearm (ulna and radius) are classified separately from a fractured upper arm (humorous).

Humorous Fractures

  • Distal: This is a term used to describe fractures close to the elbow, which can also be involved in injuries to the elbow joint.
  • Proximal: This is the term used to refer to fractures that happen further up the arm, near the shoulder.
  • Mid-shaft: This refers to the breaks that happen close to the middle of the humorous.

Forearm Fractures:

Forearm fractures can vary because there are two different bones, and either can break at different points one at a time, or both at the same time. The two most common breaks in an adult are:

  • Galeazzi Fracture: This refers to a fracture at any point in the radius, and then a dislocation of the ulna at the wrist.
  • Monteggia Fracture: This refers to a fracture in the ulna at any point, then a dislocation of the radius at the elbow.

Breaks in the forearm bones can also be described using similar terms to those used in describing humorous breaks, such as distal for breaks close to the wrist, mid-shaft for those in the middle of the bones, and then proximal for breaks close to the elbow. Breaks in either the upper arm or forearm can be simple breaks that have not shifted out of place.

There is also a different classification of breaks for those that occur in children. They can include but are not limited to:

  • Torus fracture: a compression on one side of the bone, forcing the other side to lean away from the growth plate.
  • Metaphyseal fracture: a fracture across the lower and upper sections of the bone, but not near or affecting the growth plate.
  • Greenstick fracture: a clean fracture through the bone, causing it to bend.
  • Growth plate fracture: or a physeal fracture, where the break occurs directly on or very near the centre of the growth plate.

Children can also get a Monteggia and Galeazzi fracture, which can also affect the growth plates of either bone.

The Most Common Causes Of A Broken Arm

When we fall over, either from a height or from standing height, our natural instinct is to throw our hands and arms in front of us to try and catch ourselves or lessen the impact. This means that the most common cause of a broken arm is usually a fall. In those who are older or may have a condition that weakens their bones, a break could still happen even if the fall is from standing height.

Other possible causes may include a major impact to a part of the arm, either in a car crash or some other accident.  Playing contact sports can also be a cause of broken arms, as well as attending the gym. For example, using too heavy a weight while weightlifting could cause the arm to break as it applies too much pressure to the bone. In any case, if you have had a fall, engaged in a high intensity or high impact activity, or been involved in an accident that resulted in arm pain, it is recommended to seek medical advice to determine if you may have done serious damage to your arm.

Arm Fracture Symptoms

Having a basic knowledge of fractured arm symptoms can help you decide if you might need medical attention for your arm. At times a broken arm can be obvious, but other times it can be harder to see. For example, in cases where the bone has fractured, but not moved too far out of its usual position. Signs of a fractured arm can include but are not limited to:

  • Intense pain anywhere on the arm
  • A snapping or grinding sound at the time the injury happened
  • Bruising or swelling near the site of pain on the arm
  • A tingling or numbness in your arm or hand
  • In the case of a compound fracture, a piece of bone may protrude through the skin
  • In some cases, an obvious deformity may be visible, such as the arm being bent at an odd angle
  • Being unable to move or control the arm as normal

It is possible that you may still have fractured a bone in your arm, even though you may not have any visible signs, a bone could still be broken or damaged inside. If a broken or damaged bone goes untreated, it may heal in the wrong position, become infected or even cause more damage internally to the nerves, tendons, blood vessels or muscles that encase the arm.

At What Point Should You Seek Medical Attention For A Broken Arm?

If you develop some of the symptoms listed above, you may wish to seek medical attention to be absolutely sure that there is no hidden damage, or breakage. In more serious cases, where blood is present or there are lacerations to the skin, you should seek immediate medical advice.

Other symptoms that may require urgent medical attention are:

  • Severe intense pain that cannot be controlled by ibuprofen or paracetamol
  • Deformity of the arm or a significant amount of swelling that won’t go down with ice or elevation
  • A specific point of pain in the arm that gets worse when touched or moved
  • A visible bone protruding from the skin of your arm
  • Loss of sensation in the arm, hand or fingers

If there is an open wound on your broken arm, first aid may be required to stop the blood flow and reduce the risk of infection. This could include putting a bandage on the wound and applying pressure to stem the flow of blood.

At times it can be difficult to know if you have broken the arm, or if you have sprained the muscles, tendons or joints connected to it. It is recommended that if you have reason to suspect it may be broken, it may be better to assume it is, and have it checked just in case.

How Long Is The Recovery Time For A Broken Arm?

If you have a broken arm, how long it takes to heal can vary depending on the severity of the break. For example, if the break is non-displaced, it would take less time than a break where the bone was shattered into many pieces. Breaks that involve dislocations or complicated fractures could also require further treatment, surgery or X-Rays to look for signs a broken bone is healing.

In general, for most people the broken arm healing time could be between four and eight weeks. Children are known to heal faster from breaks than adults, which is why getting them seen by a doctor early is so important to help prevent the bone healing wrong.

The length of time it takes for a broken arm to heal can also depend on the success of surgery, and whether you encounter any issues as you heal. Such as infections in open wounds, damage to a cast that may require changing, etc.

Healing and recovery time could also be reduced by taking appropriate measures at home, such as exercises, elevation and applying cold compresses to reduce swelling. Another element of recovering from a broken arm could also be physiotherapy. Physiotherapy could greatly reduce the length of time it takes to recover from a broken arm and help to ensure you regain the full use of your arm.

Many people are unaware that they may qualify for free physiotherapy as they recover from a broken bone. Contact our team to day to find out if you qualify for treatment that could significantly improve your recovery.

Broken Arm Vs Sprain

It can sometimes be difficult to determine if you have sprained your arm, the joints linked to it, or the muscles or tendons that surround it. A broken arm can sometimes present with different symptoms than a sprained arm.

Arm Break

A broken arm is described a bone that has a crack or fracture in it, meaning the bone has come apart, either in two pieces or many pieces. With a broken arm, you might be able to see a physical change in the arm, such as it being at an odd angle or bones poking through the skin. It will also be very painful to touch or move, and in some cases, you may not be able to move the arm at all. It will also be very difficult for you to put weight on the arm or lift anything heavy.

Arm Sprain

In the arm, a sprain would be defined as a movement that forced the arm beyond its normal range of movement, causing damage to the muscles and tendons. In this case, injuries to the elbow, wrist and shoulder could also result in further damage to the muscles and tendons along the arm. Sprains present themselves with similar pain and swelling as broken bones. However, with a sprain, you may still be able to move the arm, and put weight on it.

It is important to note that a sprain, though not as urgent as a break, it may still require medical attention. This is because at times a sprain may result in a complete tear in tendons, ligaments and muscles, which may need surgery to repair. Although not all injuries require immediate medical attention, it is commonly advised to seek a medical opinion on any injury you sustain to your arm, if the symptoms do not reduce after a time.

Fractured Arm Diagnosis

When you first visit a doctor about the injury to your arm, they will first get a medical history, and ask for details on the accident that caused the injury. This will allow them to determine if you have a condition that makes you more vulnerable to broken bones, like osteoporosis. Sometimes a doctor may even be able to tell what kind of break you have, based on what caused your injury, such as a fall, or car accident.

The doctor will then proceed to perform a physical examination on the area that hurts. This will allow them to feel for any displaced bones, excessive swelling, or heat around the area.

Following the physical examination, your doctor will usually have to give you an X-Ray or scan to be able to clearly see the bones and determine the extent of the break. This will usually allow the doctor to decide if he/she needs to perform a reduction, which is a manual realignment of displaced bones, or if you may need surgery. In cases where the bones are not displaced, the doctor will also use the X-Ray to see if the bone broke cleanly, or if the bone has shattered.

Examining you in this way will help your doctor diagnose your broken arm and decide on the best way to treat it.

Treatment For A Broken Arm

Treatment broken arm sling

Man with broken arm injury

The first action that could be taken to help treat a broken arm can be done as soon as the injury happens. This involves:

  • Stabilising the broken arm in a sling to prevent further injury
  • Applying ice to the swollen or painful area to help reduce swelling and pain
  • Taking paracetamol to reduce any broken arm pain
  • Applying pressure to any open wounds with a bandage to help stop any bleeding

In more serious cases, immediate medical treatment may be required, such as those where there is an open wound, severe and noticeable distortion to the shape of the arm, or where there is a complete loss of feeling in the arm or hand. In any case, whether serious or otherwise, if you go to a medical professional there is a typical process they will follow, depending on your needs.

  • They will determine your medical history and examine your injury
  • If there is an open wound, they will take steps to stop the bleeding and stabilise the injury
  • They will then perform an X-Ray or scan, determine the extent of the injury, then decide on what treatment you need

Broken arm treatment will depend on the type of injury you have. If the break is simple or non-displaced, your doctor may decide to immobilise it in a broken arm support, which could be a cast or splint. Breaks of this type can also be treated with a broken arm These types of break can usually be stabilised in the emergency room, however, there are some that may require admission to hospital.

These types of break include those where there has been damage to nerves and blood vessels, or the break is too complicated to set without surgery. In this case, your doctor will admit you, and you may need to under-go surgery to reset and repair the damage done. Surgery can sometimes include the use of pins, plates and surgical screws to immobilise and secure the bones.

What Are The Long-Term And Short-Term Health Issues Of A Broken Arm?

In general, it is normal for most people who have had a broken arm to recover the full use and mobility of their arm. However, there can be certain situations where a person with a broken arm might have lasting effects.

These cases include those who are living with bone weakening conditions, such as osteoporosis, which might make healing the injury slower and more difficult. Other more complicated breaks could also take a long time to heal, or if the break was particularly complicated, damaged nerves or tendons etc. then the person might have issues with it for an extended period of time. For those who have had a broken arm, pain could still be present for some time after wards, as well as stiffness, weakness and some swelling.

Issues with pain, stiffness and swelling could be addressed with physiotherapy, broken arm exercises, or the use of a broken arm brace after the removal of any casts or splints.

Contact Us For Treatment In Your Area

To find out if you qualify for free physiotherapy or specialist orthopaedic care that could greatly improve your recovery and healing, contact our team today on 020 3870 4868. Alternatively, you can use our online contact form to have us call you back at a time that suits you best.

Additional Reading

This article was aimed at providing you with useful information on having a broken arm. To give you further information we have included more links below that you might find useful.

Broken Wrist – For more information on broken wrists.

The Health Experts – For more information on broken bones and illness.

NHS article on broken arms – see here form the NHS for more information about broken arms.

SJA How to make an arm sling – see here from St John’s Ambulance for tips on how to make a broken arm sling

NHS Physiotherapy – see here for more information on how physiotherapy could help you recover