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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 2 bones:

  • Radius—the smaller of the 2 bones, runs along the thumb side of the arm
  • Ulna—the larger of the 2 bones, runs along the little finger side of the arm

Forearm Fracture with Swelling

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Causes    TOP

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    TOP

Forearm fracture is more common in older adults.

Factors that may increase the risk of forearm fracture include:

  • 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    TOP

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    TOP

You 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:

Treatment    TOP

Proper treatment can prevent long-term complications or problems with the forearm. Treatment will depend on how serious the fracture is, but may include:

Initial Care

Extra support may be needed to protect, support, and keep the forearm in line while it heals. Supportive steps may include a splint, brace, or cast. A sling may be necessary to help stabilize the arm.

Some fractures cause pieces of bone to separate. The doctor will put these pieces back into their proper place. This may be done:

  • Without surgery—anesthesia will 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, a specialist may be needed. 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 pain medication may be needed to relieve discomfort and swelling.

Rehabilitation    TOP

Physical therapy or rehabilitation may be needed to improve range-of-motion and strengthen the forearm.

Prevention    TOP

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 Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
http://www.sportsmed.org/Patient/Intro
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
http://www.orthoinfo.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

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

References:

Adult forearm fractures. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated July 2011. Accessed August 30, 2017.
Distal radius fracture—emergency management. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Accessed August 30, 2017.
Preventing falls and related fractures. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated April 2015. Accessed August 30, 2017.
4/25/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance. http://www.dynamed...: Bruno MA, Weissman BN. American College of Radiology (ACR) Appropriateness Criteria for acute hand and wrist trauma. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated 2013. Accessed September 25, 2014.
Last reviewed August 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM
Last Updated: 9/25/2014

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