How Painful Is a Broken Humerus?

Medically Reviewed on 12/3/2020
Humerus fractures cause severe pain and swelling.
Humerus fractures cause severe pain and swelling.

Humerus fractures cause severe pain and swelling. On a scale of 10, pain in patients following a humerus fracture is eight or more. Shortening of the arm is apparent with significant deformity of the bones. Humerus fractures are a very painful injury, and patients may need to take pain relief medications regularly as prescribed by the doctor. The fractured portion may hurt intensely, swell, and feel stiff. Stiffness may continue well after the fracture has healed. It may be very difficult for an individual to move their upper arm. If the nerves are also affected, they may experience unusual sensations and weakness in the hand and wrist. Other symptoms may include:

  • A grinding sensation when the shoulder is moved
  • Deformity
  • Open fracture (occasionally bleeding)

What are the causes of a humerus fracture?

The humerus is the upper arm bone that runs between the elbow and shoulder. Humerus fractures account for a remarkably small proportion of total bone fractures. The causes may include:

  • A direct blow or bending force applied to the middle of the humerus
  • Falling onto an outstretched arm
  • Violent muscle contraction in sports such as weightlifting

An accident or a severe injury is the main cause of humerus fractures. Most injuries result from a direct impact to the body, such as during a fall or motor vehicle crash. Older adults may experience humerus fractures from relatively minor falls due to less bone strength and bone degradation.

Different types of humerus fractures include:

  • Proximal humerus fractures occur near the shoulder.
  • Mid-shaft fractures are located in the middle of the bone.
  • Distal humerus fractures are located near the elbow joint and are more common in children than they are in adults.

Doctors may diagnose a fractured humerus by

  • Examining the arm and pulses.
  • Taking an X-ray of the affected arm.
  • More sophisticated imagery (in rare cases), such as a computed tomography scan is used to provide a more detailed view.

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How is a humerus fracture treated?

The humerus is the long bone in your upper arm. When broken, it needs specialized care so that you can cope with the problems it brings. It will take a minimum of 12 weeks to heal. Patients may be on pain relief medications for a longer duration. The plaster that is applied for this injury is heavy; this is to help the fracture stay in the correct position, and patients must adapt their lifestyle to get used to this. Treatment options include:

  • If the fractured bones are still in their proper position, a sling or plaster cast can be used. The cast supports and keeps the arm from moving while it heals. This usually takes three months.
  • Most mid-shaft humerus fractures, which have well-aligned bone parts, can heal with immobilization and usually do not require surgery.
  • Doctors may recommend physical therapy depending on bone healing. Therapists will help you move the shoulder joint at first with a passive range of motion exercises. These exercises help improve circulation and reduce stiffness. Patients may then proceed to more advanced exercises to increase strength and motion.
  • If the fractured bones have moved out of position, surgery is recommended. Surgery called an open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) is used to realign the bones and secure them in position with surgical hardware, such as plates, pins, screws, and wires. Surgery is most frequently used for proximal and distal humerus fractures.
  • For severe proximal humerus fractures, a shoulder replacement surgery is used to remove the damaged bone and insert an artificial implant.
  • Severe proximal humerus fractures may also require reattachment of the shoulder muscles (rotator cuff muscles). Rehabilitation therapy begins as soon as possible.

The recovery process is different for everyone, depending on the severity of the injury and treatment you receive. Most fractures heal in about six weeks, but severe injuries may take longer to heal. Taking calcium and vitamin D supplements and increasing protein intake in the diet can help in hastening the healing process.

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Medically Reviewed on 12/3/2020
References
Shoulder Fracture: https://www.assh.org/handcare/condition/shoulder-fracture