After discussing your symptoms and how you injured yourself and examining your arm, your doctor is likely to order X-rays to determine the extent of a fracture and injury to adjacent joints and pinpoint the location of the break. Occasionally, your doctor may also recommend another scan such as an MRI to obtain more-detailed images.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.