Treatments and drugs

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Treatment of a broken arm will vary, depending on the type of break. Fractures are classified into one or more of the following categories:

  • Open (compound) fracture. In this type of fracture, the skin is pierced by the broken bone. This is a serious condition that requires immediate, aggressive treatment to decrease the chance of an infection.
  • Closed fracture. In closed fractures, the surrounding skin remains intact.
  • Displaced fracture. In this type of fracture, the bone fragments on each side of the break are not aligned. A displaced fracture may require surgery to realign the bones properly.
  • Comminuted fracture. This term means that the bone is broken into several pieces. This type of fracture also may require surgery for complete healing.
  • Greenstick fracture. In this type of fracture, the bone cracks but doesn't break all the way through — like 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. In this type of 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 the movement of any broken bone is critical to healing. To do this, you may need to wear a splint, sling, brace or cast. The length of time needed depends on the severity of the injury, but can range from three to 10 weeks.

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 to begin some motion to minimize stiffness in your arm, hand and shoulder while you're still 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. 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.

Aug. 19, 2011