Most broken arms are caused by trauma to the extremity. This can be a low-energy mechanism like a fall or a high-energy injury, such as a motor vehicle crash. Sporting injuries are also a common cause for a broken arm.
The hand and wrist are some of the most common sites for a broken arm to occur. Other conditions that can make a broken arm more likely include osteoporosis and bone tumors in the upper extremity.
Symptoms of a broken arm include:
A broken arm should always be evaluated by a health professional. You may need to be seen in the emergency room when the break first occurs to receive initial treatment. In most cases, you will be asked to follow-up with a surgeon for definitive treatment. Hand surgeons are specially qualified to diagnose and treat fractures in the upper extremity.
Your doctor will perform a careful physical examination and make sure that all of the nerves and blood vessels in the arm are unharmed. In most cases, an x-ray will be done to diagnose a broken arm. For some breaks, more advanced imaging such as a CT scan or MRI may also be necessary.
Depending on the bone involved and the pattern of the break, a broken arm may be treated with immobilization in a sling or cast. Surgery may be necessary if the break is unstable or displaced. In addition to the bone, ligaments (the structures that hold the bones together), tendons, muscles and nerves may be injured as well. These injuries may need to be treated in addition to the fracture.
A physician will make that determination when he/she evaluates the patient in the office. It may take several weeks or months for the broken arm/hand to heal. Rehabilitation may be needed to restore motion and strength after the healing process completes.