You are sitting in the ER waiting room when you hear from the emergency room doctor that your child suffered a broken arm. It resulted from a bike accident or when they slid too hard on the playing field.
Learning that your child has broken their arm may leave you with many questions. There are several ways to treat broken arms, but much will depend on the type of fracture, its severity, and your child’s age.
Read on to understand what happens when an arm gets broken and what you can expect for your child’s treatment.
What Is a Broken Arm and What Causes It?
The definition of a fractured arm is having one or more of the arm’s bones cracked or broken. Forearm fractures account for about half of all fractured bones in children, and the majority of them occur close to the wrist.
An arm fracture, often known as a broken arm, is often brought on by an impact injury, such as one suffered in a fall or a collision. Falls are very common in children and result in broken bones. The most frequent cause of a broken arm is falling onto an extended hand.
Sports injuries from a collision with another player or a tumble can cause a fractured arm. Trauma is another factor in broken bones. An arm break can result from direct trauma to the arm, such as from a vehicle or bicycle accident.
What Are the Main Bones in the Arm?
The humerus is the long bone located in the upper arm and is one of the three primary bones in the arm. One end of the humerus connects at the shoulder, while the other end joins at the elbow joint, with the radius and ulna.
The radius is larger and longer than the ulna and runs from the elbow to the wrist. The ulna extends from the point of the elbow to the side of the wrist where the little finger is.
What Are the Symptoms of a Broken Arm?
If you think your child may have broken their arm, keep an eye out for these symptoms:
- Your child claims that their arm hurts
- The area appears deformed, swollen, or bruised
- Inability to pick up objects, move their limb, or put weight on it
- The area is warm to the touch or shows redness
How Is a Broken Arm Diagnosed?
Your child’s arm will be carefully examined by the physician, who is looking for signs of a fracture. To see indications of a broken bone as well as injury to neighboring muscles or blood vessels, the doctor may also request one or more imaging tests, including those listed below:
An X-ray is the main equipment used for determining where a bone broke. An X-ray technician uses small doses of radiation in this painless examination to create images of your child’s bone on film. Doctors will also use X-rays to check to see if the broken arm is healing the right way.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging
An MRI is a diagnostic process that creates precise images of the body’s organs and architecture using a mix of powerful magnets, radio waves, and computers. MRIs can detect minor fractures before they worsen because they are more sensitive and precise than X-rays.
Computed Tomography Scan
A CAT scan is a diagnostic imaging process that creates cross-sectional images, termed slices. These slices go both vertically and horizontally of the body using a blend of computer technology and X-rays.
Bone scans are a non-invasive imaging technique that evaluates bones and identifies the source of discomfort or inflammation. Bone scans can also find fractures in a toddler and stress fractures, which can be hard to see on X-rays.
Treatment for Broken Arms
The best treatment for your child’s broken arm will depend on the location and extent of their injury, their age, general health, and their medical history. Depending on the severity of the break, there are both non-surgical and surgical options to consider.
Splints and Casts
A cast or splint is a common treatment for many broken bones. They prevent the bone from shifting, allowing for faster healing.
Additionally, it lessens pain and swelling. A cast is often worn following surgery for a broken bone to keep the bone safe and in the correct position as it heals.
Splint for Broken Arm
A splint could be an effective treatment for a minor fracture in your child’s arm. It works by stabilizing the bone on one side, preventing it from shifting so it can mend.
Some splints have the construction of metal or rigid plastic. Others have fiberglass or plaster composition. The splint is made to be gentle and has a snug fit for the injured area.
If your child receives a splint from the doctor, Velcro, straps, or cloth will cover it. This secures it in position. As the arm heals, the doctor might need to make a few adjustments to the splint.
A splint, which is more gentle and less restrictive than a cast, may often find use as a first treatment option if your child has significant swelling. When the swelling subsides, the splint will come off. The doctor will then follow up by applying a cast.
The doctor may apply a splint if you are in an urgent care facility until your child can see a specialist. Usually, an orthopedist will do this.
Cast for Broken Arm
A fracture usually requires a cast. It is stronger and more effective at protecting the broken bone than a splint since it surrounds it with support.
There are two parts to a cast. A soft lining is on the inside of the cast and cushions the skin, while a firm outer layer prevents the bone from moving. The doctor will select one of two types of castings for your child.
Your child may have a plaster of Paris cast made for them if they need a strong hold. It is a thick paste that is quick to harden and become solid. It is strong and durable, which is a plus for many.
But, it does come with some disadvantages. These casts are heavy and will not do well in water.
A molded plastic that will fit the shape of the broken area is used to create synthetic or fiberglass casts. Compared to the plaster of Paris, they are much lighter. Some contain a waterproof lining, while the outside layer is somewhat water-resistant.
Castings for broken arms come in different types, depending on where the break occurred. Some common types of casts for broken arms include short arm casts, long arm casts, and arm cylinder casts.
Short arm casts will keep the arm in place following surgery or help treat wrist or forearm fractures and stretch from the elbow to the hand. Long arm casts will treat fractures of the upper arm, elbow, or forearm and extends from the upper arm to the hand. These casts also stabilize the arm following surgery.
Arm cylinder casts hold the tendons and the elbow muscle in place following surgery or dislocation. These casts will reach from the upper arm to the wrist.
Your child’s fractured bone may have misaligned pieces. Their physician might refer to this as a displaced fracture. In this situation, the doctor will reposition the bone fragments.
It is a closed reduction and a non-surgical method to help the bone grow back together in a straight line by aligning the fragments. Your child’s doctor will order an X-ray after completing this procedure to make sure the bone is in alignment. Then a cast will be added, and the broken pieces of bone will stay put as your child’s arm heals.
Traction and Closed Reduction
Traction can realign broken or dislocated bones by applying a slow, moderate tugging motion to stretch the tendons and muscles in a certain direction around the broken bone. This promotes healing and alignment of the bone ends, and in some situations, it lessens painful muscular spasms.
The fracture is reduced and fixed using a nonsurgical technique called closed reduction. The doctor can realign the bone pieces from outside the body while using anesthesia, usually administered through an IV in the arm, and then keep the bone in place with a splint or cast.
Surgical Treatment for a Broken Arm
Your child may need broken arm surgery if the fracture is severe enough. Your child’s doctor may perform an operation called an open reduction if the break is too difficult for a closed reduction.
After making a cut in their skin, they will attach metal plates or pins to the broken bones. This procedure will hold the bones in place while they heal.
To hold bone fragments in place and allow alignment and healing, a surgeon may opt to insert pins or metal rods inside the bone. The name of this procedure is internal fixation, or when outside the body, it’s called external fixation. Doctors perform both of these methods while your child is under general anesthesia.
How Long Does It Take a Broken Arm to Heal?
Children have an uncanny ability to heal their broken bones. Within a few weeks of a fracture, the new bone begins to develop. Although, complete healing can take longer.
Most likely, a doctor will apply a splint or cast on your child’s broken arm. Splints and casts keep shattered bones immobilized while they mend. Make sure to maintain the splint or cast so that it does not cause irritation to your child’s skin and stays in good shape.
Broken bones are a common injury in children, and they are treatable. Most of these injuries heal well and within a few months. It takes, on average, six weeks for a fractured arm to heal.
However, several factors, such as the kind of break and the location of the fracture, might affect how long it takes to recover. Wrist and elbow injuries often need more lengthy recovery periods than injuries along the forearm or upper arm.
Medication for Your Child
For the first few days, the doctor may suggest a prescription medication or an over-the-counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen. If your child had surgery, they might also recommend antibiotics to fight infection.
The Healing Process
Children’s bones heal quicker than those of grown-ups because they are softer than the bones of adults. Compared to teenagers, young children often will heal faster.
Though it sometimes can take three weeks, you can plan for your child to have their cast on for roughly four to eight weeks. The bone in your child will continue to heal even after the cast is taken off.
It will first develop a substantial layer of new bone covering the area. It will feel like a bump or knot. This layer is a callus, it is nothing to worry about and it will shrink over time.
Keep an Eye Out for Complications
Keep your child moving and watch for any potential issues that could point to poor or slow recovery. Although, early in the healing process, swelling, bleeding, and infections are more likely to occur, and other symptoms could appear once the pain has subsided. Keep an eye out for these areas of concern:
- Cool or blue-tinged hands or fingers
- Persistent numbness or tingling
- Ongoing pain after taking painkillers
- Chills or fever
- Stiff or weak muscles
Taking Off the Cast
The doctor will remove your child’s cast once their broken bone has healed. They will first check the area to make sure that everything is correct and will then remove the cast using a unique tool that resembles a saw. Its blade is dull and moves back and forth as it vibrates, causing the cast to break off and fall apart.
They will examine the wounded area after the cast removal. The doctor will look for pain and determine whether your child has a wide range of motion. Ensuring the bone has mended, the doctor might order a follow-up X-ray.
A Broken Arm Needs a Specialist’s Care
Broken arms need proper attention. If not taken care of by a specialist, fractures can cause a lifetime of pain and trouble for your child. We can help you or a loved one suffering from a bone fracture.
Contact us or check out our blog for helpful information about our award-winning team of physicians in Houston, TX.