(Broken Arm; Radial Fracture; Ulnar Fracture)
DefinitionA 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|
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CausesA 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 FactorsForearm fracture is more common in older adults. Factors that may increase your risk of forearm fracture include:
- 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
SymptomsA 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
DiagnosisYou will be asked about your symptoms, your physical activity, and how the injury occurred. The injured area will be examined.Imaging tests assess the bones, surrounding structures, and soft tissues. This can be done with:
TreatmentProper treatment can prevent long-term complications or problems with your forearm. Treatment will depend on how serious the fracture is, but may include:
Initial CareExtra support may be needed to protect, support, and keep your forearm in line while it heals. Supportive steps may include a splint, 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
MedicationThe following medications may be advised:
- Over-the-counter medication to reduce inflammation and pain
- Prescription pain medication
RehabilitationYou may be referred to physical therapy or rehabilitation to start range-of-motion and strengthening exercises.
PreventionTo 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.
- 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.
American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
OrthoInfo.org—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
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 25, 2014.
Distal radius fracture. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated September 15, 2014. Accessed September 25, 2014.
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 25, 2014.
4/25/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance. http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Bruno MA, Weissman BN. American College of Radiology (ACR) Appropriateness Criteria for acute hand and wrist trauma. Available at: http://www.acr.org/~/media/ACR/Documents/AppCriteria/Diagnostic/AcuteHandAndWristTrauma.pdf. Updated 2013. Accessed September 25, 2014.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 08/2014
- Update Date: 09/25/2014