Broken Humerus: Symptoms and Treatments
The term broken humerus is a little odd to say that the experience isn’t a funny one at all! The humerus is the bone of the upper arm, which attaches to the elbow at the bottom and the shoulder at the top. When too much pressure is applied externally to the bone the result can be a crack (hairline fracture) or a complete break of the bone. There are several signs that typically accompany a broken humerus, most of which we are going to talk about in this article. We will also cover treatment and recovery options.
The humerus can be broken by a countless number of causes, although the most common by far is by falling. Any time a fall or accident causes severe pain in the upper arm, a break should be suspected. In addition to pain during movement, the tissues of the arm may swell or the arm itself may look disfigured, which can happen when the ends of the snapped bone lie in awkward positions. The arm may also become weak and cold, or change color if the blood supply is disrupted by the broken bone. If a break is suspected, medical attention should be sought as soon as possible to make sure the damage is not severe.
The patient should gently apply ice to the arm for about 20 minutes and refrain from moving the arm, if possible, until they arrive at the doctor’s office. The doctor will inspect the arm and ask questions about how the injury was acquired. If the impact was not extreme, the doctor may ask for information about the patient’s background to determine if the break could have been due to a lack of calcium, low bone density, weight, or age.
The doctor will most likely have an x-ray taken to determine the type of break that has occurred. There are three types of fractures: proximal, distal, and mid-shaft. A proximal fracture is one in which the bone is broken close to the shoulder socket. There are a lot of tendons around this area, so the type of treatment used for this sort of break really depends on how much damage the tendons have suffered and whether the fragments of bone are in a close enough position to be “set”. The arm is “set” when the doctor places the bones into the right position and secures them there with a sling which must be used for several weeks until the bone fragments have reconnected and healed.
A distal fracture is one that occurs near the elbow and is very uncommon among adults. Children, especially those who play sports, make up the majority percentage of distal fractures of the humerus. Unfortunately, this is also one type of fracture that often requires surgery to ensure that the bones are placed in the correct position for healing.
A mid-shaft fracture is the most common type of fracture to occur. This fracture occurs more towards the middle of the bone, rather than near the shoulder or the elbow. More often than not a mid-shaft broken humerus can be treated by simply setting the bone and placing it in a brace or sling. Surgery may be necessary for this type of fracture if the radial nerve has been affected by the break, as this could lead to issues developing in the wrist and hand, such as numbness and weakness.
The rate of recovery can take anywhere from four to ten weeks, and even longer if surgery was performed or if the radial nerve was damaged. Prescription medication to combat the pain, plenty of rest, and possibly rehabilitation exercises to regain muscle strength, are likely to be recommended to the patient. The important thing to remember is that recovery should be taken slowly to ensure that the bones and muscles heal properly.