The arm is made up of three bones: the upper arm bone (humerus) and two forearm bones (the ulna and the radius). A broken arm means that one of more of the arm bones have cracked.
Broken bones, also called fractures, are extremely common among adults and children. In adults, fractures of the arm account for nearly half of all broken bones. In children, a broken arm is second only to a broken collar bone.
Whether you’ve been in an accident or have suffered a fall you may be wondering, “How do I know if my arm is broken?” The most common signs of a broken bone are pain, swelling and deformity. However, you can also have a broken arm whether it’s out of its normal position or not. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to seek medical treatment after an impact trauma to the arm.
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How to tell if your arm is broken
If you’ve broken a bone, you may notice one or more of these three common symptoms:
When a bone breaks, it’s common for the area to swell, become tender and bruise. This is due to fluids and blood leaking into your muscles, skin and fat (as a result of the trauma). Over time, the swelling becomes hard to the touch.
Pain is your body’s natural response when you break one of your bones. Immediately after the trauma, you may experience an intense ache or sharp pain at the point of fracture as well as other areas affected by the trauma. You may also experience increased pain when you put weight on the injury (e.g., touching, pressing or moving).
A deformity means the body part looks abnormally crooked or different than it did before the trauma. Visible deformities are particularly common in severe breaks.
Common causes of a broken arm
Almost all injuries that result in a broken arm are caused by:
Falling on your outstretched hand is the most common way to break or fracture your arm. The location of the fracture can occur anywhere between the wrist and shoulder depending on the direction of the fall, age of the person, bone density and other factors that affect bone health.
- Direct trauma
Direct trauma can be from a direct blow from an object like a baseball bat, the trauma from an automobile accident or any accident that causes direct force on the arm.
Treating a broken bone at home
If you think you’ve broken your arm, here are two important things to do until you can get medical treatment:
- Stabilize the arm
The most important part thing you can do at home after a fall or direct trauma is to stabilize the arm. This will help alleviate pressure on the broken bone and prevent further trauma. Create a sling out of a bath towel. You can wrap it under your arm, like a hammock, and then tie it around the back of your neck.
- Apply ice
Place a bag of ice on the injured area for 20-30 minutes at a time. This will help decrease pain, pressure, inflammation and swelling. Place a towel around the bag of ice to protect the skin from getting too cold.
Treatments for a broken bone
In most cases, broken arms do not require surgery and can be safely treated at your local urgent care or emergency room. Here are common treatments for a broken arm bone:
- Splint or partial cast
Most fractures need a splint or partial cast to stabilize the broken bones so they can heal properly. Some breaks, particularly those in the upper arm and shoulder, may only need to be immobilized in a sling.
- Pain medication
In addition to immobilizing the broken bone, your doctor will prescribe pain medication to alleviate discomfort and ice therapy to decrease swelling.
Broken arm bones that typically require surgery include:
- Bones protruding from the skin
- Fractures associated with nerve damage
- Fractures associated with blood vessel damage
- Complicated fractures that have multiple breaks, involve the joints, or cannot be stabilized in the emergency room, urgent care or doctor’s office.
Find a Clinic Near You
If you’ve suffered a fall or direct trauma to your arm and need to get your arm examined, visit Coastal Urgent Care of Gonzales for a thorough examination, x-ray, diagnosis and treatment. Walk-ins welcome Mon-Fri 9 a.m. – 8 p.m., Sat-Sun 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.