Broken (Fractured) Arm or Shoulder

Broken arms (humerus) and broken shoulders are common injuries from falls, car accidents or other types of accidents for both adults and children.

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Symptoms

A loud cracking or snap is usually the first sign your arm is broken. It also may appear deformed, swollen, bruised or bleed.

Other symptoms include extreme pain, increased pain with movement and loss of normal use of the arm.

Immediate Action

To slow bleeding and reduce swelling, raise the injured arm above the level of your heart. If a broken bone sticks out from the skin (open fracture), do not try to push it back in. Use a clean, dry cloth or bandage to cover it until medical help arrives.

It is important that you not try to use the broken arm. Moving a broken arm would also cause more damage to blood vessels, nerves and other tissues. To keep the broken area from moving, make a temporary splint, by taping a ruler or other supportive device to the arm. Even though a sling can be made from a scarf supported from the neck, the patient should go to the Emergency Room right away.

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Diagnosis

During the examination, tell your doctor exactly what happened. Your doctor may examine the broken arm and check for other injuries, such as nerve damage. Your ability to flex and extend your wrist and fingers may also be checked. Often X-rays and other diagnostic imaging scans will be used to compare the injured arm with the uninjured arm. With children, the long bones of the arm are probably still growing, so the doctor may check for damage to growth plates.

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Treatments

The doctor may have to move pieces of the bone back into the correct position. This is called reduction. Depending upon the severity of injury, the patient may or may not need local or general anesthesia. More serious fractures may require surgery.

With the broken bone back in place, the arm is held in place with a cast or splint that stays in place for a period of time based on the nature of the injury and how complex the break was.

Generally, it takes eight to 12 weeks for the broken arm to heal completely. Rehabilitation and physical therapy with gradually increasing activities will help restore muscle strength, joint motion and flexibility. Physical therapy after the fracture is healed may be used until the arm performs normally.

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