Broken arm: upper arm and forearm

A broken arm can occur as a result of a fall on the arm or shoulder, or by absorbing the fall with an extended arm. A broken arm can hurt a lot. In addition, there are other symptoms to recognize a bone fracture. The treatment usually consists of plaster, but also surgery. There is a difference between a broken upper arm and a broken forearm, especially in terms of treatment.

Broken arm: cause

When a bone is subjected to a great force, greater than the force it can handle, it will break. We call this a bone fracture. A broken arm is common in both children and adults. Very often the cause is a fall, for example slipping at the pool or falling down the stairs or from a horse. This concerns a fall on the shoulder or arm or a fall in which the fall is caught with outstretched arms. A broken arm often occurs during leisure time: during sports, games or on holiday. Less often it occurs during work. A broken arm can also be caused by repetitive pressure on the bone. A stress fracture then occurs. This often occurs during sports or during work that places too much strain on the bones in the arm.
Age plays a role in the occurrence of a bone fracture. Children have flexible bones that bend more often in the event of a fall. Older people have bones that are more brittle and less flexible, which means they are much more likely to fracture. A final factor is a condition in which the bone has become so brittle that it can break spontaneously. Osteoporosis is a well-known example of this.

Upper arm

A fracture in the upper arm occurs between the elbow and shoulder. This is often caused by a fall on the shoulder or upper arm. Even if the fall is caught with an extended arm, it can break the upper arm. When a bone in the upper arm is broken, pain is felt and it is difficult to move the arm. There may be visible swelling and sometimes bruising due to damaged blood vessels. In addition, a piece of bone may protrude under the skin or it may be impossible to move the hand or arm due to nerve loss.
In principle, an upper arm is not put in a cast, it heals nicely on its own. However, a brace can be applied. This is a plastic tube that goes around the upper arm. The patient can remove the brace himself. The shoulder and elbow must remain free so that they can be moved. This promotes blood circulation in the upper arm. Good blood circulation is necessary for recovery. Not every patient receives a brace: this depends on the fracture. The elbow should never be supported in the event of an upper arm bone fracture. The hanging weight of the arm actually promotes the recovery of the upper arm. The arm can be worn in a sling.
In the case of a complicated fracture, the bone fracture is repaired through surgery using a pin or a plate in the arm. Surgery is only used if there is an open fracture or if no improvement is visible after three months. In addition, surgery is performed when both arms are broken or there is serious injury to vessels or nerves. The bone is put into place during the operation and secured with a pin or a plate. The arm is worn in a sling for the first 10 to 14 days.
Healing of the upper arm takes 6 to 8 weeks. In the elderly we see that complete healing sometimes takes longer. Some people walk around with it for more than 3 months. A broken upper arm causes a lot of pain. Sometimes the pain is even unbearable. The doctor will prescribe strong painkillers if necessary. It is advisable to sleep in a semi-sitting position.


A broken forearm is a broken bone between the wrist and elbow. The radius or ulna may be broken, or both. Even now, the cause is often a fall on the arm. A large blow or bump to the forearm can also occur, causing the bone to break. Bones break much more quickly in the elderly. The symptoms are pain, swelling, bruising and sometimes even a piece of bone protruding under the skin. Sometimes a clear position deviation can be seen in the arm: the arm is in a strange position. It is often impossible to move the arm normally.
Plaster casting is often chosen for the forearm. The fracture heals in 6 to 8 weeks, sometimes longer. A sling/sling can be worn for support. In severe cases, where the bone parts are too far apart, pins are applied by surgery. The bone parts are first put in place and then fixed with a pin or a plate. These must be removed again after a few weeks. After removing the pin or plate, physiotherapy can begin. It is always advisable to undergo physiotherapy.

Put in plaster

It is always preferable to put the arm in a cast instead of using surgery. Plaster casting is only possible if the bone parts have not moved too far apart. In children, plaster casting of the arm is always preferred. The plaster holds the bone parts in place so that they can grow together neatly. Casting also has a disadvantage: the arm cannot be used temporarily, causing the muscles to weaken and the arm to become thinner. Bone decalcification also often occurs in bones that are not used. Physiotherapy is therefore often necessary after a period of plaster.
The plaster cast is done in the plaster room of the hospital. This can sometimes be annoying, because the arm must be brought into the correct position. This is sometimes incomprehensible to children. Parents may always be present during the cast to support and comfort the child. After a number of weeks, during which the recovery is monitored using X-rays, the plaster is removed again. Many people make it a tradition to have drawings made on their plaster arm. It is recommended that you take a clear photo of this before removing the plaster.

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