The Broken Arm

The term 'broken arm' can refer to many different injuries. The fractures that will be discussed here are the common ones affecting the area.

Always remember that the information given here is general and NOT SPECIFIC. Please DO NOT TAKE IT AS UNQUESTIONABLY APPLICABLE TO YOUR SITUATION. It is excellent information and is meant to help your understanding of a broken arm NOT REPLACE THE ADVICE OF A SPECIALIST WITH ALL THE RELEVANT INFORMATION AT HAND ABOUT A SPECIFIC CASE..

Before reading about the specifics of a broken arm please see our FRACTURE INFORMATION PAGE that makes some very important points.


Fractures of the Head of Humerus

Fractures of the head of the humerus can be avulsion fractures. This is where a fragment of bone is pulled off. They commonly involve either of the two 'bumps' known as tubererosities.

They are generally considered too small to re-attach surgically and immobilisation of the shoulder joint is preferred in a position that will allow natural re-attachment of the fragment.

This will normally be for around three weeks, as long as bony union occurs (the bone re-attaches). After this time the shoulder joint is likely to be quite stiff and require a considerable amount of rehabilitation to restore normal movement and function.

Fractures of the Neck of Humerus

Fractures of the neck of the humerus are common upper limb fractures. This type of broken arm is often sustained by the elderly in falls. The neck of the humerus, as it is called, logically sits just below the head or ball. There exist an 'anatomical' neck and a 'surgical' neck. They are areas of the humerus very close togeteher that are so named because one is the actual neck and the other is where breaks usually occur. Don't allow this to confuse you. It is just a minor medical point.

The normal treatment following this type of broken arm is rest or immobilisation in a sling for around three weeks. This is to allow the head to reunite with the neck again. Following this period of time rehabilitation can begin, to restore movement and strength to the arm.

Considerable loss of movement at the shoulder can result from this type of broken arm, especially if rehabilitation is difficult or delayed for some reason.

Fractures of the Scapula

I have only had one experience of a fractures scapula. This was in a famous professional soccer player. Although vey painful it healed well with few problems. This is generally the case, I believe, with these injuries.

There will be a need for rehabilitation of the shoulder region.

Fractures of the Clavicle

Clavicular fractures are not uncommon. They often occur as a result of a fall on an outstretched hand and if the other arm bones survive then the clavicle can be fractured if it happens to take the brunt of the force. I recall seeing a broken arm of this type in quite a number of cyclists who have taken a tumble off their bikes.

It can break anywhere along its length. These breaks are commonly left to heal without any surgery and tend to do well. They can be probematic as the clavicle is very superficial and a damaged bone can protrude through the skin. More often than not though the problem is more cosmetic than functional. Operative fixation of them, however, has not been widespread in my experience.

Rehabilitation of the shoulder movement will be necessary again here. The arm movement will need to be limited to allow bony union to occur. A sling will likely be used for the first two to three weeks as the clavicle is a strut that is involved in supporting the weight of the arm.

People can be quite reluctant to move the shoulder after a broken arm of this type and it can be uncomfortable for a good few weeks after the injury. However the long term results are, in my experience, very good.


Fractures that involve the elbow joint tend to be problematic because movement at the joint is easily lost. Common fractures that affect the elbow are:

Fractures of the Shaft of Humerus (mid upper arm)

These can be nasty injuries in that they may seriously affect the Radial Nerve as it passes around the back of this bone. Such complications do not always occur but must be considered a possibility.

Fractures of the Epicondyles of the Humerus

These fractures are likely to involve the joint itself because of their close proximity. Internal fixation may be an option either at the time or after a period of immobilisation and rehabilitation to see how much movement and function has been attained. There is likely to be some loss of elbow movement as a result of an injury of this nature.

Fractures of the Olecranon Process

The olecranon is the bony point at the back of the elbow. Falls on the point of the elbow are the common cause of this injury. Although it has been known as an avulsion fracture, being pulled off by the triceps tendon in rare and extreme circumstances. There will almost definitely be some effect on elbow movement, particularly extension, even after extensive rehabilitation.

Fractures of the Head of Radius

The radial head is found just below the elbow in the top of the forearm. A fall can often be the cause of this fracture. In children it has been known for a radial head injury to be caused by pulling of the child with excessive force by the hand, as if swinging them round. Although elbow movement can be affected. good rehabilitation will generally see a decent result.