Proximal Humerus Fracture

By: Dr. Kamal Bohsali and Rachel Consolazio, PTA

What is a Proximal Humerus Fracture?

A proximal humerus fracture is the medical terminology for a “broken shoulder”. The humerus is the
large upper arm bone that connects the elbow joint to the shoulder. The term, proximal, refers to the
end of the bone that is situated closer to the shoulder, ball-and-socket joint. The proximal end of the
humerus is the most commonly fractured area of the bone when an injury occurs.

Causes of A Proximal Humerus Fracture

Proximal humerus fractures occur more frequently in the older population than younger people due to
the weakening of their bones with age and decreased bone density (osteopenia and osteoporosis). These
fractures often occur when a person falls and takes most of the impact through their arm. The bone can
break in a variety of ways. 

A doctor would need to have an x-ray of your shoulder to see how the bone broke. It can break completely through the bone, splitting the bone into two or several pieces or a section (the lesser or greater tubercle) of the bone could fracture or break off.

X-ray image of a proximal humerus fracture or broken shoulder with a red circle to identify the fracture site

Symptoms of a Proximal Humerus Fracture

This type of injury can be very painful and will restrict the ability to use the affected arm. There is
typically swelling and bruising on the upper arm and armpit area. Initially the fractured humerus will be
treated by immobilizing the arm in a shoulder sling, ice, and pain medication. 

Treatment for a Proximal Humerus Fracture

Once an orthopedist has examined the x-rays, they will determine if the proximal humerus fracture is displaced (meaning the bones have slipped from their normal position in the body) or non-displaced. If the bone has broken into several pieces or is displaced, a surgeon may need to operate to place screws and a plate on the bone to hold it in place and allow it to heal properly. In some cases, the shoulder joint may need to be replaced due to the severity of the fracture. Most proximal humerus fractures are non displaced and can be treated without surgical intervention.

How Long Is Recovery after Humerus Fracture?

Bone heals at different rates depending on the individual’s age and other health factors. During the healing process, an orthopedist may recommend 2 to 3 weeks of immobilization and pain control, while maintaining motion of the elbow, wrist, and fingers to increase circulation and prevent stiffness. A follow-up appointment will need to be scheduled at which new x-rays will be taken to ensure that the bone has healed or is healing at the rate it should be. At this appointment, the doctor will typically refer the patient to physical therapy for range of-motion exercises and to have the shoulder stretched by a therapist. Once the bone has healed completely, at about 12-16 weeks, the physical therapist will progress treatment with gentle strengthening exercises. A patient may require several months of therapy to regain full range of motion and functional strength of the involved arm.

Basic Range of Motion Exercise for the Shoulder


  • Bend forward at the waist while supporting yourself with the un-injured arm against a chair or countertop.
  • Let your injured arm hang freely, like an elephant trunk, away from the shoulder joint.
  • Slowly make circles with the arm. Clockwise then counterclockwise.
  • This exercise should be pain-free and gentle.

Image of woman doing pendulum exercise for left shoulderPendulum Exercise

Passive Shoulder Flexion

  • Lie flat on your back, with a pillow under your head.
  • Use your un-injured arm to hold the affected arm at the wrist.
  • Relax the affected arm as you gently lift it into the air and overhead with the strength of the un-injured arm.
  • Push the arm back until you feel a pain-free, stretch at the shoulder joint, hold for a few seconds.
  • Slowly lower the arm back down and repeat.

Image of woman on back doing shoulder flexionPassive Shoulder Flexion Exercise

Table Slides and Shoulder Scaption

  • Sitting in a chair beside your dinning room table, place the affected arm on the table with a towel or pillowcase underneath it. 
  • Slowly lean your chest forward to slide your arm out and slightly to the side.
  • Stop once you feel a gentle stretch at the shoulder joint and hold for a few moments. 
  • Take a deep breath in and out. 
  • Straighten back-up and repeat.

Image of woman doing table slidesTable Slides Scaption Exercise

Risks and Complications with Proximal Humerus Fracture

There can be long term issues following a proximal humerus fracture, as with any major injury. Chronic
pain or soreness with over-activity, stiffness, and loss of mobility are all issues that can remain months if
not years after this type of injury. If you follow the orthopedist recommendations and attend therapy
as prescribed, you should be able to make a full recovery.

Related links:

If you have and injury or possible fracture, the Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute can help. To see a JOI Orthopedic doctor, call (904)JOI-2000, schedule online, or click the link below. The see a JOI Rehab Therapist in 1 of our 12 locations, call (904)858-7045.

Skip to content