A forearm fracture is a break or crack in one or both of the bones in your lower arm. The break may be just a bend or small crack in the bone, or the bone may break into pieces or shatter. Some fractures may stick out through the skin.
The 2 bones of the lower arm are the radius and ulna.
What is the cause?
A broken arm is often caused by a fall or a direct hit to the arm. A fracture may also be the result of a medical condition that causes weak or brittle bones.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms may include:
A snapping or popping sound at the time of the injury
Pain, swelling, bruising, or tenderness that happens right after the injury
Pain when the injured area is touched
Pain or swelling that keeps you from bending or using your arm
An area of the arm or hand that is cold, pale, or numb
A change in the shape of the arm
How is it diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and how the injury happened. Your provider will examine you. Tests may include:
X-rays of the arm
CT scan, which uses X-rays and a computer to show detailed pictures of the bones
MRI, which uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to show detailed pictures of the bones
How is it treated?
The treatment depends on the type of fracture.
If you have an open wound with the fracture, you may need treatment to control bleeding or prevent infection.
If the broken bone is crooked, your healthcare provider will straighten it. You will be given some medicine first so the straightening is less painful.
Sometimes surgery is needed to put the bones back into the right position.
Your provider may put your injured arm in a splint or cast to keep it from moving while it heals. If you have a cast, make sure the cast does not get wet. Cover the cast with plastic when you bathe. Avoid scratching the skin around the cast or poking things down between the cast and your skin. This could cause an infection.
With treatment, the fracture may take up to 6 weeks to heal. You may need to do special exercises to help your arm get stronger and more flexible. Ask your healthcare provider about this.
How can I take care of myself?
Follow the full course of treatment your healthcare provider prescribes. Also:
To keep swelling down and help relieve pain, your healthcare provider may tell you to:
Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth on the injured area every 3 to 4 hours for up to 20 minutes at a time for the first day or two after the injury.
Keep the arm up on pillows when you sit or lie down.
Take pain medicine, such as ibuprofen, as directed by your provider. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, you should not take this medicine for more than 10 days.
Ask your healthcare provider:
How and when you will hear your test results
How long it will take to recover
What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
How to take care of yourself at home
What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.
How can I help prevent a forearm fracture?
Most broken arms are caused by accidents that are not easy to prevent.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth. Last modified: 2014-02-01 Last reviewed: 2014-01-23
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Forearm Fracture: References
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Greene, Walter B., M.D., Griffin, Letha Y. (Ed), Essentials of Musculoskeletal Care, 4th ed. Amer Academy of Orthopaedic. 2010.
Kisner, Carol, and Lynn Colby, Therapeutic Exercise: Foundations and Techniques, F. A. Davis Company; 6th ed, 2012.
Mellion, Morris B., W. Michael Walsh, Christopher Madden, Margot Putukian, and Guy L. Shelton, The Team Physician’s Handbook, Hanley & Belfus; 3 ed, 2001.
Micheli, Lyle J. and Mark Jenkins, The Sports Medicine Bible: Prevent, Detect, and Treat Your Sports Injuries Through the Latest Medical Techniques, HarperCollins, 1995.
Oâ€™Connor, Francis G, et al. ACSMâ€™s Sports Medicine A Comprehensive Review. Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2013.