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by EBSCO Medical Review Board
(Upper Arm Fracture)

Definition

The humerus is the long bone in the upper arm. A humeral shaft fracture is a break in the long, narrow part of the bone.

Causes

This problem is caused by trauma to the bone from:

  • A motor vehicle crash
  • A twisting injury
  • Falling onto an outstretched hand
  • A blow to the bone

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:

  • Playing high-impact sports
  • Problems during childbirth (fracture in infant)

Symptoms

Problems may be:

  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • Problems moving the arm
  • Pain that may be worse when moving the arm
  • Changes in how the arm looks
  • Change in feeling in the arm

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms, health history, and how the injury happened. An exam will be done. It will focus on your arm.

Images will be taken of the arm. This can be done with x-rays.

The Bones of the Body
IMAGE
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Treatment

It may take 4 or longer to heal. The goals of treatment are to ease pain and swelling. Medicine can help. Other options are:

  • A splint, brace, or cast to keep the bone in line as it heals
  • Exercises to help with strength, flexibility, and range of motion

Children's bones have growth plates that let bones grow and harden with age. A child with a fracture may need to be checked over time to make sure the bone heals the right way and keeps growing.

Putting Bones Back in Place

Some fractures cause pieces of bone to come apart. These pieces will need to be put back into place. This may be done:

  • Without surgery—anesthesia will be used to ease pain while the doctor moves the pieces back into place
  • With surgery—pins, screws, plates, or a rod may be needed to reconnect the pieces and hold them in place

Prevention

To lower the risk of this type of fracture:

  • Wear safety equipment when playing sports or doing activities.
  • Always wear a seat belt when driving or riding in a motor vehicle.
  • Do not put yourself at risk for trauma to the bone.

RESOURCES

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians  http://www.familydoctor.org 

Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons  http://www.orthoinfo.org 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

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

Health Canada  https://www.canada.ca 

References

Humeral shaft fracture. Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America website. Available at: https://posna.org/Physician-Education/Study-Guide/Humeral-Shaft-Fractures. Accessed July 29, 2021.

Humeral shaft fracture—emergency management. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T902926/Humeral-shaft-fracture-emergency-management. Accessed July 29, 2021.

Updegrove GF, Mourad W, et al. Humeral shaft fractures. J Shoulder Elbow Surg. 2018 Apr;27(4):e87-e97.

Revision Information