Humerus Fracture (Upper Arm Fracture)

What is a humerus fracture?

The humerus — also known as the upper arm bone — is a long bone that runs from the shoulder and scapula (shoulder blade) to the elbow. A humerus shaft fracture is one that is localized at the mid portion of the upper arm.

What causes a humerus fracture?

A broken arm is a common injury and is usually a consequence of a fall with an outstretched hand, a car crash or some other type of accident.

What are the symptoms of a humerus fracture?

Symptoms vary depending on the specific type of fracture but may include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling and bruising
  • Inability to move the shoulder
  • A grinding sensation when the shoulder is moved
  • Deformity — “It does not look right.”
  • Occasionally bleeding (open fracture)
  • Loss of normal use of the arm if a nerve injury occurs

What is the treatment for a humerus fracture?

Humerus Shaft Fracture

A humerus shaft fracture may be treated with or without surgery, depending on the fracture pattern and associated injuries (i.e., nerve injury or open fracture). A temporary splint extending from the shoulder to the forearm and holding the elbow bent at 90 degrees can be used for initial management of the fracture.

Nonoperative treatment usually includes the placement of fracture bracing that will be replaced by a cylindrical brace (Sarmiento brace) three to four weeks later that fits the upper arm while leaving the elbow free. The doctor will tell you how long to wear the cast or splint and will remove it at the right time. It may take several weeks to several months for the broken arm to heal completely.

Rehabilitation involves gradually increasing activities to restore muscle strength, joint motion and flexibility. The patient’s cooperation is essential to the rehabilitation process. The patient must complete range of motion, strengthening and other exercises prescribed by the doctor on a daily basis. Rehabilitation will continue until the muscles, ligaments and other soft tissues perform normally.

Surgery usually involves internal fixation of the fragments with plates, screws or a nail. The rehabilitation differs slightly from nonoperative treatment, with no splints or cast. The patient is usually given a sling for comfort and arm support. Elbow exercises may be started immediately after surgery, while shoulder exercises may be delayed for a few weeks based on the fracture pattern.

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