Sometimes it can be difficult to tell whether you’ve broken your arm or just sprained it. Symptoms of a broken or fractured bone in your arm may include:
- Difficulty moving the affected arm
- Pain and swelling at the fractured site
- Obvious deformity over the fractured site (a bulge or tenting)
- Tenderness or bruising over the fractured site
- Grinding sensation upon moving the arm
- Numbness or tingling over the arm (rare, occurs when there is a nerve injury)
- Pale or cold arm (rare, occurs when there is a blood vessel injury)
- Affected arm appears shorter than the uninjured arm (occurs when the fractured bones are overlapping one another)
- Parts of the fractured bone may be visible through the broken skin (if there is an open fracture)
- Numbness in the hand or wrist (if forearm is fractured)
Your doctor may diagnose the fracture based on your medical history (including history of injuries such as a car accident or a fall) and physical examination.
To locate the exact site of fracture and plan proper treatment, your doctor may also order imaging studies such as an X-ray. If you have a history of frequent fractures, your doctor may order other tests, such as a serum calcium, vitamin D, and bone scan, to diagnose any underlying health issues.
What are the causes of a broken arm?
A broken arm or arm fracture occurs when any bone in your upper or lower arm gets broken or cracked. In young children, the bone may get bent but not broken (also called greenstick fracture).
- The upper arm has a single bone called the humerus. The humerus is a long and slender bone extending from the shoulder to the elbow.
- The lower arm, called the forearm, has two bones called the radius (toward the side of the thumb) and ulna (on the inner side of the forearm or side of the little finger).
- Both bones extend from the elbow to the wrist. Because of the differences in structure and locations of these bones, fracture causes may also differ.
Upper arm fractures
Causes of fractured humerus (upper arm bone) include:
- Automobile accident
- High-impact fall on the upper arm
- Fall on an outstretched upper arm
- Severe twisting injury of the upper arm
- Sudden and extreme contraction of the upper arm muscles (called spiral or ball thrower’s fracture)
- Physical violence
In healthy individuals, upper arm fractures are usually caused by a high-impact injury or trauma. In individuals with underlying health conditions that weaken the bone, such as cancer or osteoporosis, the bone may break even with a minor impact or mild trauma (pathologic fracture).
Causes of fracture of the radius and ulna (forearm bones) include:
- Automobile accident
- Fall on an outstretched arm
- Contact sports such as ice skating, rugby, volleyball, skateboarding, and wrestling
- Physical violence
Fracture in the forearm may involve one or both bones. Just like fracture in the upper arm, a forearm bone fracture may occur in the absence of a significant injury in individuals with underlying health conditions (such as bone cancer or osteoporosis).
What are the complications of a broken arm?
Complications of a broken arm include:
- Bleeding (if the fractured bone pierces a blood vessel)
- Nerve injury (if the fractured bone damages a nerve)
- Malunion (if the fractured bone does not heal properly, resulting in a deformity)
- Osteoarthritis (if the fracture involves a joint)
- Infection (may be seen in an open fracture if a sharp portion of the fractured bone pierces the skin surface)
- Non-union (rare, occurs when the bone fragments fail to unite)
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