Forearm Fracture

(Broken Arm; Radial Fracture; Ulnar Fracture)
  • Definition

    A forearm fracture is a break in one or both bones of the forearm.
    The forearm consists of two bones:
    • Radius—the smaller of the two bones, runs along the thumb side of your arm
    • Ulna—the larger of the two bones, runs along the little finger side of your arm
    Forearm Fracture with Swelling
    Nucleus factsheet image
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  • Causes

    A forearm fracture is caused by trauma to the bone. Trauma may include:
    • Fall on an outstretched arm
    • Fall directly on the forearm
    • Direct blow to the forearm
    • Twisting the arm beyond the elbow's normal range of motion
  • Risk Factors

    Factors that may increase your risk of forearm fracture include:
    • Advanced age
    • Osteoporosis
    • Certain diseases or conditions that result in bone or mineral loss, such as abnormal or absent menstrual cycles, or post- menopause
    • Certain diseases and conditions that weaken bones, such as tumors or cysts
    • Poor nutrition
    • Certain congenital bone conditions
    • Decreased muscle mass
    • Participating in contact sports
    • Violence
  • Symptoms

    A forearm fracture may cause:
    • Pain, often severe
    • Tenderness, swelling, and bruising around the injury
    • Decreased range of motion
    • A lump or visible deformity over the fracture site
  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your symptoms, your physical activity, and how the injury occurred. The doctor will examine the injured area.
    Imaging tests may include:
    • X-rays to look for a break in the forearm area.
    • CT scan to look at the cartilage and tendons around the forearm. In complex fractures of both bones, it may be used to help reconstruct the bones.
  • Treatment

    Proper treatment can prevent long-term complications or problems with your forearm. Treatment will depend on how serious the fracture is, but may include:
    Intial Care
    Extra support may be needed to protect, support, and keep your forearm in line while it heals. Supportive steps may include a spint, brace, or cast. A sling may be necessary to help stabilize your arm.
    Some fractures cause pieces of bone to separate. Your doctor will need to put these pieces back into their proper place. This may be done:
    • Without surgery—you will have anesthesia to decrease pain while the doctor moves the pieces back into place
    • With surgery—pins, screws, plates, or wires may be needed to reconnect the pieces and hold them in place
    Children’s bones are still growing at an area of the bone called the growth plate. If the fracture affected the growth plate, your child may need to see a specialist. Injuries to the growth plate will need to be monitored to make sure the bone can continue to grow as expected.
    Medication
    Prescription or over-the-counter medications may be given to help reduce inflammation and pain.
    Medications may include acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
    Check with your doctor before taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen or aspirin.
    Note: Aspirin is not recommended for children with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving your child aspirin.
    Rest and Recovery
    Healing time varies by age and your overall health. Children and people in better overall health heal faster. In general, it takes up to 10 weeks for a fractured forearm to heal.
    You will need to adjust your activities while your forearm heals, but complete rest is rarely required. Ice and elevating the leg at rest may also be recommended to help with discomfort and swelling.
    As you recover, you may be referred to physical therapy or rehabilitation to start range-of-motion and strengthening exercises. Do not return to activities or sports until your doctor gives you permission to do so.
    If you have a forearm fracture, follow your doctor's instructions .
  • Prevention

    To help reduce your chance of a forearm fracture, take these steps:
    • Do not put yourself at risk for trauma to the bone.
    • Always wear a seatbelt when driving or riding in a car.
    • Do weight-bearing and strengthening exercises regularly to build strong bones.
    • Wear proper padding and safety equipment when participating in sports or activities.
    To help reduce falling hazards at work and home, take these steps:
    • Clean spills and slippery areas right away
    • Remove tripping hazards such as loose cords, rugs, and clutter
    • Use non-slip mats in the bathtub and shower
    • Install grab bars next to the toilet and in the shower or tub
    • Put in handrails on both sides of stairways
    • Walk only in well-lit rooms, stairs, and halls
    • Keep flashlights on hand in case of a power outage
  • RESOURCES

    American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons http://www.orthoinfo.org

    American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine http://www.sportsmed.org

    CANADIAN RESOURCES

    Canadian Orthopaedic Association http://www.coa-aco.org

    Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation http://www.canorth.org

    References

    Adult forearm fractures. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00584 . Updated July 2011. Accessed September 16, 2013.

    Distal radius fracture. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us . Updated August 24, 2013. Accessed September 16, 2013.

    Preventing falls and related fractures. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health%5FInfo/Bone/Osteoporosis/Fracture/prevent%5Ffalls.asp . Updated January 2012. Accessed September 16, 2013.

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