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Arm Fracture In Adults

What is an arm fracture?

An arm fracture is a crack or break in one or more of the bones in your arm.

What causes an arm fracture?

Osteoporosis (brittle bones) can increase your risk for a fracture. The following are the most common causes of arm fractures:

  • Trauma: A direct hit to your arm can cause a fracture. Car and sports accidents are some examples of trauma that can cause an arm fracture.

  • Fall: The pressure when you land on your hands after a fall may cause your arm bone to break.

  • Stress fracture: This is a tiny fracture that happens when your arm muscles become tired from overuse. Stress fractures happen most often in athletes who do the same motion over and over.

What are the different types of arm fractures?

  • Nondisplaced: The bone breaks but the pieces stay in place.

  • Displaced: The bone breaks and the pieces move out of place.

  • Open fracture: The broken bone breaks through your skin.

What are the signs and symptoms of an arm fracture?

  • Arm and shoulder pain

  • Swollen arm

  • Abnormal arm position

  • Severe pain when you move your arm

  • Weakness or numbness in your arm

How is an arm fracture diagnosed?

Your caregiver will look for wounds on your arm. He will check to see if you have decreased feeling in your arm or hand. He will also check your arm movement. You may need any of the following tests:

  • X-ray: An x-ray will show the type of fracture you have.

  • CT scan: This test is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray and computer are used to take pictures of your arm. You may be given dye, also called contrast, before the test. Tell the caregiver if you are allergic to iodine or seafood. You may also be allergic to the contrast dye.

  • MRI: This scan uses powerful magnets and a computer to take pictures of your arm. You may be given dye, also called contrast, before the test. Tell the caregiver if you are allergic to iodine or seafood. You may also be allergic to the contrast dye. Remove all jewelry, and tell caregivers if you have any metal in or on your body. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell caregivers if you cannot lie still or are anxious or afraid of closed spaces.

  • Bone scan: This is a test to look at your arm bones. You are given a small amount of dye in an IV. Pictures are taken of your injured arm. The pictures will help caregivers see your arm fracture better.

How is an arm fracture treated?

Treatment will depend on what kind of fracture you have, and how bad it is. You may need any of the following:

  • Brace, cast, or splint: A brace, cast, or splint will decrease your arm movement and hold the broken bones in place. They help decrease pain, and prevent further damage to your broken bones.

  • Medicines:

    • Pain medicine: You may be given medicine to take away or decrease pain. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take your medicine.

    • Antibiotics: This medicine will help fight or prevent an infection. Take your antibiotics until they are gone, even if you feel better.

  • Physical therapy: A physical therapist can teach you exercises to help improve movement and decrease pain. Physical therapy can also help improve strength and decrease your risk for loss of function.

  • Surgery: You may need debridement before your surgery if you have an open fracture. Debridement is when damaged tissue is removed and the wound is cleaned. Debridement helps prevent infection and improve healing. Your caregiver will use pins, screws, wires, or other materials to hold your bones straight so they can heal. You may have pins coming out of your skin.

How can I help my arm fracture heal?

  • Rest: You may need to rest your arm so that it can heal. Rest is most commonly used to treat a stress fracture.

  • Elevate: Raise your arm above the level of your heart as often as you can. This will help decrease pain and swelling. Prop your arm on pillows to raise it above your heart comfortably.

  • Ice: Ice decreases pain and swelling. Put crushed ice in a plastic bag and cover it with a towel. Put the ice over your splint or cast for 15 to 20 minutes every hour.

What are the risks of an arm fracture?

The nerves in your arm may be damaged, which can make your arm numb or weak. Your arm may not heal properly or work as well as it did before your injury. You may have a scar if you have surgery.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have a fever.

  • You have new or more trouble moving your arm.

  • You have questions or concerns about your injury, treatment, or care.

When should I seek immediate help?

Seek help immediately or call 911 if:

  • The pain in your injured arm does not get better or gets worse, even after rest and medicine.

  • Your injured arm, hand, or fingers feel numb.

  • Your arm is swollen, red, and feels warm.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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