By: Julia Guthart, OTR/L, CHT – Site Coordinator/Hand Therapy Director
The quick answer is a broken arm means that one of the bones in your arm has cracked. This is common in both adults and children. You have 3 bones in your arm. The humerus is the big one that makes up the upper arm and goes from the shoulder to the elbow. Your forearm is made up of 2 bones called the radius and ulna. These 2 bones go from the elbow to the wrist.
There are 2 ways almost all broken bones in the arm occur: Falls and direct trauma to the area. A fall that causes a break is normally a FOOSH, which is a fall on your outstretched hand. This can cause a fracture in any of the 3 bones in the arm depending on the fall and person. The other way is from direct trauma to the area. This can be from a car accident, a direct blow from an object, sports injuries or anything that causes force to that part of the arm such as a fall.
When you have had an incident where you think you may have broken your arm, there are certain broken arm symptoms to look for. Most broken arms will have similar symptoms. The main broken arm symptom is a high amount of pain in the arm which increases when you move the arm. You will also have swelling in the area. In certain cases, you will have an obviously deformity in the arm as compared to your other side. In severe breaks, some broken arm symptoms can include an open wound from the bone coming through the skin. Furthermore, you may have decreased sensation or ability to move which could indicate nerve damage. These are medical emergencies and need to be treated immediately.
The quick answer is to call your doctor after an accident if you have significant pain that is not relieved by ice and over the counter pain medicine. Further more if there is a large amount of swelling or a deformity in the arm. Overall, if there is enough pain in the arm that you are unable to use it normally, see a doctor as soon as possible. Delaying the diagnosis and treatment of a broken arm can lead to poor healing. Your doctor may want you to go directly to the emergency room. An ER visit is advised when there is visible bone sticking through the skin, heavy bleeding from an open wound, lack of sensation in the arm, an obvious deformity as compared to the other side, loss of consciousness, and many other injuries.
If you think you have broken your arm there are a few first aid procedures to perform before going to the doctor. The most important thing is to stabilize the arm by using a sling or making one with a towel. You can also apply ice to the injured area to help decrease the swelling and the pain. Leave ice bag in place for 20 minutes. Never place the ice directly on the skin, put a towel barrier in between the skin and ice pack. When you get to the MD they will examine your arm for tenderness, swelling, and deformities. They will x-ray your arm to determine if there is a break, and the extent and location of the fracture. The MD will then treat you accordingly.
All JOI Physicians, Physical Therapists and Occupational Therapists now offer Telemedicine services for virtual visits from the convenience of your home.