Forearm Fracture
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Forearm Fracture

(Broken Arm; Radial Fracture; Ulnar Fracture)

En Español (Spanish Version)

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

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© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

Causes

A forearm fracture is caused by trauma to the bone. Trauma includes:

  • Falling on an outstretched arm
  • Falling directly on the forearm
  • Direct blow to the forearm
  • Twisting the arm beyond the elbow's normal range of motion

Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease, condition, or injury. Risk factors for a forearm fracture include:

  • Advanced age
  • Decreased muscle mass
  • Osteoporosis
  • Poor nutrition
  • Certain congenital bone conditions
  • Participating in contact sports
  • Violence

Symptoms

Symptoms include:

  • 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, physical activity, and how the injury occurred, and examine the injured area.

Tests may include:

  • X-rays —a test that uses radiation to take a picture of structures inside the body, especially bones. It is used to look for a break in the forearm area.
  • CT scan —a type of x-ray that uses computers to make pictures of structures inside the arm. It is used 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

Treatment will depend on the severity of the injury. Treatment involves:

  • Putting the pieces of the bone back in place, which may require anesthesia and/or surgery
  • Keeping the pieces together while the bone heals itself

Devices that may be used to hold the bone in place while it heals include:

  • A cast or splint (may be used with or without surgery)
  • A metal plate with screws (requires surgery)
  • Screws alone (requires surgery)

The doctor may prescribe pain medication depending on the level of pain. Your doctor will order more x-rays while the bone heals to ensure that the bones have not shifted position.

Exercises

When your doctor decides you are ready, start range-of-motion and strengthening exercises. Attention will be directed to the fingers and the shoulder so that you maintain motion in these critical joints. You will be referred to a physical therapist to assist you with these exercises. Do not return to sports until the fracture is healed and you have regained normal muscle strength and arm mobility.

Healing Time

It takes about 8-10 weeks for a fractured forearm to heal. If the fracture has an open wound over it, the healing time will be longer.

Prevention

To help prevent forearm fractures:

  • Do not put yourself at risk for trauma to the arms.
  • Eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D.
  • Do weight-bearing exercises to build strong bones.
  • Build strong muscles to prevent falls and protect the forearm.
  • Wear proper padding and safety equipment when participating in sports or activities.

RESOURCES:

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

American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
http://www.aossm.org/tabs/Index.aspx

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

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

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

References:

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://www.aaos.org/ .

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov .



Last reviewed October 2007 by Robert E. Leach, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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