Did you know that the average person will break about two bones in his or her lifetime? Broken bones come in all different forms and some might be mild while others might be very serious. Whatever the case, broken bones can be very painful and can take a long time to heal.
But in some cases, you might not even know whether or not you’re dealing with a broken bone. For example, how to tell if you have a broken arm can be more of a challenge than you might think if you’ve never broken your arm before. As long as your arm is not obviously deformed, you might think that you just sprained your arm when you actually broke it.
However, it is important to know when you have a broken bone. If you don’t let a doctor fix it properly, it may heal the wrong way and you may have less use of your arm as a result. Keep reading to learn more about the important signs of a broken arm and what you can do about it.
The Causes of a Broken Arm
A broken arm may involve one or more broken bones. There are three main bones in your arm: the humerus, the ulna, and the radius. The ulna and radius are closely attached and make up your forearm.
The humerus is a much larger bone that makes up your upper arm. Together, these three bones (along with the muscles joining them) allow you to rotate and bend your arm however you see fit. The bones in your arm are generally very strong because they need to lift and carry things throughout your life, but they are not invincible.
There are several ways you can break one or more of the bones in your arm. One of the most common ways people (especially children) break their arm is by falling on it. You might accidentally trip and fall and put your arms out in front of you to catch your fall.
If you land on a hard surface, the impact may fracture some of the bones in your arm and potentially the bones in your wrist and hand as well. You might also suffer from a broken arm as a result of trauma. For example, if you were involved in a car accident or another kind of accident, your arm might be subjected to a crushing or pulling force that is strong enough to shatter your arm bones.
Finally, sports can cause arm fractures in various ways. This is especially true for sports that involve a person moving at a high speed such as skateboarding, skiing, and so on. In rare cases, a person might be born with bones that are weaker than usual and they may break their bones more often.
Besides the causes of a broken arm, you should also know how you can tell whether or not you have a broken arm and what consequences you might face if you don’t fix it.
The Complications of Not Fixing a Broken Arm
More often than not, arm injuries will fix themselves with time, but that doesn’t mean you should keep from going to the doctor to get professional treatment. If you don’t get a broken bone fixed right away, you could face all sorts of consequences and complications. For example, suppose that your child breaks his arm.
While you could technically wrap it up and keep the child from going to the doctor, letting the bone heal in this way will likely compromise the child’s arm in some way. In particular, the broken arm may not grow as much as the other arm. This is especially true if the bone fracture occurs in or near the growth plate at the end of long bones.
For both adults and children, a broken bone left to its own devices can cause osteoarthritis after a few years. This is especially true if the fracture involves the arm joint. Osteoarthritis can limit the range of motion of your arm and it can also make moving your arm very painful.
In rare and severe cases, an untreated broken bone can lead to a bone infection. This usually only happens if the bone punctures the skin and is exposed to the elements. In this case, certain bacteria may be able to enter the bone and cause an infection.
The exposed tissue around the bone may also become infected if it is not treated quickly. If your arm bones shatter into several pieces, these pieces may cause damage to your nerves or blood vessels. This is particularly dangerous because the sharp edges of the bone fragments could cut into the nerves of your arm.
If this happens, you may lose feeling or even function of your arm. Keep in mind that broken nerves and blood vessels cannot be fixed as easily as broken bones.
How to Tell if You Have a Broken Arm
If you injure your arm, you might not be sure if your arm is really broken or not. Your arm might hurt quite a bit, but it might be the result of a sprain. How can you really know if you’re dealing with a broken bone?
Of course, going to the doctor is the best option to find out for sure, but if you can’t make it to the doctor right away, there are a few signs you can look for. To start, you will first want to see how much you can move your arm. For example, if the bones in your forearm are broken, you might not be able to turn the palm of your hand up or down.
This is because the ulna and radius in your forearm are responsible for allowing you to twist your arm and hand. If one or both of those bones are broken or dislocated in some way, you will not be able to move your arm in such a way anymore, especially not without severe pain.
Another sign of a broken bone is constant pain.
This pain tends to increase in severity with movement. Even when you aren’t moving your arm, you may still feel a very consistent pain that won’t go away. Soon after breaking your arm, your arm may start to swell and become bruised.
Swelling and Compartment Syndrome
Swelling is a sign that a lot of blood is beginning to rush to the point of damage in an attempt to repair the issue. You will want to be especially conscious of the swelling because there is a chance that compartment syndrome can occur. Compartment syndrome is a side effect of breaking a bone.
It involves excess swelling in a certain area of the body. If the swelling is severe enough, it can actually cut off the blood supply to the rest of the arm. As a result, the rest of your arm will not have any supply of oxygen or nutrients to keep it alive.
This is a very painful condition and if it is not fixed fast, you could start to lose feeling in your arm and the cells in the area could even start to die off. Finally, to see whether or not you have a broken arm, check to see if there are any visible signs of deformity.
If one part of your arm is bent in a strange way, there is a good chance that the bones are broken.
What to Do When You Break Your Arm
Once you figure out that you have a broken bone, the first thing you should do is go to the emergency room. Once it’s time for the doctor to see you, your doctor will likely ask for an X-ray before anything else. An X-ray will be able to visualize your bones so your doctor can see the extent of the damage.
Usually, the doctor will take two X-rays to get two different views of your arm. This will make it easier to see how your bones are broken and how severe the damage might be. Along with the X-ray, the doctor will give you a physical exam.
This is important because by examining your arm physically, the doctor will be able to tell if there is any nerve damage or damage to your blood vessels. Once your doctor sees the extent of the damage, it will be time to stabilize the bone. Stabilizing the bone is very important because if you ignore this step, the bone will not be able to heal as it should.
As a result, you might suffer problems with your arm later in life. But as long as the doctor repositions the bone and stabilizes it with a splint, the bone should heal in its original location. For that reason, any complications associated with the broken bone will be much less likely.
Severe Broken Bones
If you break your upper arm (the humerus) you will likely need to wear a sling for some time. A sling will immobilize your arm so it will be much easier for your arm to heal in the right position. If your broken arm is very severe, you may need to be admitted to the hospital.
This is usually the case if the bone has punctured the skin or cut the tissue surrounding it. This is also true if the bones have fractured to such an extent that they damaged the surrounding nerves and blood vessels. In this case, you might even have to be moved to a different department where more experienced doctors can work on you.
Recovery Time and Prevention
Your recovery time will depend on the severity of your broken bone. If you only have a light fracture, you might only need to heal for a week or two. On the other hand, if you have severely broken bones or have several broken bones, you will likely need to recover for several weeks.
When recovering, you will want to make sure that your splint stays dry and clean. To help the pain and swelling, applying ice to your arm for about 30 minutes can be very helpful. To keep the swelling at bay, keeping your arm raised above your heart is a good idea.
This will make it harder for any excess blood to flow into your arm and cause swelling. If your doctor prescribed you any pain medication, take it as your doctor advised.
If your arm is unusually swollen, changes color, or goes numb, you shouldn’t hesitate to call your doctor.
These might be signs of an infection or that your arm isn’t getting enough blood. However, as long as you take good care of your arm during the recovery process, these symptoms are unlikely to happen.
But what about prevention? While there is no sure way to prevent accidents such as car accidents, there are certain things you can do to keep yourself protected. For example, when in a moving vehicle, you should always wear a seat belt.
If you often play sports, you should always wear protective equipment. For example, if you like to go skateboarding, you should always wear wrist guards and other pads to protect your body. As long as you do this, you will be able to prevent (or at least minimize) serious injuries to your arm bones.
All About Broken Arms
How to tell if you have a broken arm doesn’t have to be a difficult task. If your arm is in pain after an accident and if you have a hard time moving it, your arm might be broken.
If you think you might be in need of arm or hand surgery, don’t hesitate to contact us here.