Treatments and drugs

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Treatment of a broken arm will vary, depending on the type of break. The time needed for healing depends on a variety of factors, including severity of the injury; other conditions, such as diabetes; your age; nutrition; tobacco use and excessive use of alcohol.

Fractures are classified into one or more of the following categories:

  • Open (compound) fracture. The broken bone pierces the skin, a serious condition that requires immediate, aggressive treatment to decrease the risk of infection.
  • Closed fracture. The skin remains unbroken.
  • Displaced fracture. The bone fragments on each side of the break aren't aligned, which may require surgery to realign the bones.
  • Comminuted fracture. The bone is broken into pieces, which may require surgery for complete healing.
  • Greenstick fracture. The bone cracks but doesn't break all the way through — like what happens when you try to break a green stick of wood. Most broken bones in children are greenstick fractures, because a child's bones are softer and more flexible than are those of an adult.
  • Buckle (torus) fracture. One side of the bone is compressed, which causes the other side to bend (buckle). This type of fracture is also more common in children.

Setting the bone

If you have a displaced fracture, your doctor may need to manipulate the pieces back into their proper positions — a process called reduction. Depending on the amount of pain and swelling you have, you may need a muscle relaxant, a sedative or even a general anesthetic before this procedure.

Immobilization

Restricting movement of a broken bone is critical to healing. To do this, you may need to wear a splint, sling, brace or cast. If your broken arm requires a cast, your doctor will likely wait until the swelling goes down, usually five to seven days after injury. In the meantime, you'll likely wear a splint.

Your doctor may ask you to return for more X-rays during the healing process to make sure the bones haven't shifted.

Medications

To reduce pain and inflammation, your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter pain reliever. If you're experiencing severe pain, you may need to take a prescription medication that contains a narcotic for a few days.

Therapy

Rehabilitation begins soon after initial treatment. In most cases, it's important, if possible, to begin some motion to minimize stiffness in your arm, hand and shoulder while you're wearing your cast or sling. After your cast or sling is removed, your doctor may recommend additional rehabilitation exercises or physical therapy to restore muscle strength, joint motion and flexibility.

Surgery

Surgery is required to stabilize some fractures. If the fracture didn't break the skin, your doctor may wait to do surgery until the swelling has gone down. Keeping your arm from moving and elevating it will decrease swelling.

Fixation devices — such as wires, plates, nails or screws — may be needed to maintain proper position of your bones during healing. Complications are rare, but can include infection and lack of bone healing.

Jul. 22, 2014

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