Broken arm


Overview of a broken arm

A broken arm is a fracture of one or more bones in your arm. Broken arms are very common. In fact, they are the most frequently broken bone among adults.

There are three bones in the arm. The humerus is the bone in your upper arm. Your lower arm — or forearm — consists of the radius and ulna. Fractures can also extend to the joints of the arm, including the shoulder, elbow, and wrist. Arm fractures can be simple (single fracture line) or complex. 

All broken arms require urgent medical attention. If the fracture is the result of significant trauma, also seek immediate emergency medical attention.

If you need follow-up care for a broken arm, Find a Doctor near you at Dignity Health. 

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of a broken arm may be evident if the arm is crooked or a bone is sticking through the skin (open fracture).

Depending on the severity of your injury, and how many bones are involved in the fracture, symptoms may include:

  • Bruising or bleeding 
  • Deformity 
  • Pain or tenderness, or pain on movement
  • Numbness or tingling in the arm, hand, or fingers 
  • Redness or warmth 
  • Stiffness or difficulty moving your arm or shoulder 
  • Swelling 

Seek medical care to get the right diagnosis and treatment. 

Causes

Trauma is the most common cause of a broken bone, especially falling on an outstretched arm. Sports injuries and motor vehicle accidents are other common forms of arm trauma. Impact, such as being hit by a bat or being in a motor vehicle accident, can also lead to broken bones. Open fractures that accompany skin wounds are at higher risk of becoming infected.

Underlying bone conditions such as osteoporosis can mean that your bones are weaker.

In older people, weak bones from osteoporosis can also lead to more frequent broken bones. 

Types

A fractured arm bone may be a partial or complete break. In younger people, it is common to experience “green stick” fractures, in which the bone break resembles a green, bendable stick that has been broken until it partially breaks.

Fractures can also be described as closed or open. In a closed fracture, the bones do not break through the skin. If bones are poking through the skin, this is called an open fracture and should be cared for immediately.

Risk factors

Broken arms are most common during athletic activity, such as skiing, biking, and contact sports like football and rugby.

Aging-related conditions like osteoporosis, which is a condition that weakens your bones, may also put you at increased risk for breaking your arm.

Prevention

Most events that lead to broken bones are accidental, so it can be hard to prevent a broken arm completely. You can, however, take steps to build up bone strength, try to avoid falls, and wear the proper protective equipment for sports.

To build up bone strength, eat a balanced diet with calcium and vitamin D, get sufficient weight-bearing exercise, and do not smoke. Wearing the proper protective gear during sports can help protect your hands and fingers if you fall onto them.

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.