Symptoms and Signs of Broken Arm

Medical Author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
Medically Reviewed on 9/19/2022

Doctor's Notes on Broken Arm

A broken arm (fractured arm) means that one or more of the bones of the arm (the humerus, radius, and ulna) have cracked. Arm fractures account for nearly half of all broken bones in adults, and in children, forearm fractures are second only to broken collarbones. Almost all arm injuries that result in a broken bone are caused by either falls or direct trauma such as a car accident or sports injuries.

Symptoms of a broken arm include

  • extreme pain and increased pain when moving the arm,
  • swelling,
  • deformity when compared to the other arm, possible open wound either from the bone puncturing the skin or from the skin being cut during the injury, and
  • decreased sensation or inability to move the limb, which may indicate nerve damage.

What Is the Treatment for a Broken Arm?

Treatment of fractures involves aligning the bones in place (reduction) so they can heal properly. Depending on the type and severity of the arm fracture, this may be done medically or surgically. 

Immobilization of an arm fracture in which the ends already align includes: 

  • A full cast (a most common type of fracture treatment)
  • Functional cast, brace, or splint
    • Allows for limited movement of nearby joints

Surgery to treat arm fractures may be needed for fractures that are not lined up properly or are unstable and not likely to heal on their own. Types of surgery to fix broken arm bones include: 

  • External fixation
  • Metal pins or screws are placed into the broken bone above and below the fracture site and connected to a metal bar outside the skin which acts as a stabilizing frame to hold bones in the proper position while they heal
  • Open reduction and internal fixation
  • The bone fragments are first reduced (repositioned) into proper alignment and held together with special screws, metal plates attached to the outer surface of the bone, or rods inserted through the center of the bone

For pain, over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicines such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve) may be recommended. For severe arm fractures, prescription pain medications may be used. 

After the bone in the arm has healed, physical therapy may be needed because patients may lose muscle strength and range of motion in the injured area. Exercises will help stretch and strengthen the muscles and improve joint motion and flexibility. 

Arm fractures can take several weeks to several months to heal, though pain usually goes away long before the arm fracture is fully healed.

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REFERENCE:

Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.