Health: taking care of a broken arm

Health: taking care of a broken arm

Taking care of a broken arm is not difficult. Use these tips to help someone recover as quickly and comfortably as possible.



Broken bones, especially broken arms, are a very common occurrence especially among active children and teens. Fortunately, taking care of such a fracture is not as complicated as one might think. Simply having a few facts about the injury, first aid and treatment is all it takes to help someone recover as quickly as possible.  

Is It Broken?

Usually, it is quite obvious that a bone has been broken, but if there is any uncertainty look for these signs:

1. There is extreme pain in one area of the arm.

2. The arm cannot be moved normally, or there is great pain with movement.

3. Deformity or swelling is obvious when compared with the other arm.

What To Do Next

Once a fracture is suspected, get the person to a physician quickly. You can also take these first aid steps to help ease the pain in the meantime:

1. Try to keep the arm motionless using a homemade splint or sling if necessary. A sling is the easiest because all you need is a cloth wide enough to support the arm, with ends long enough to be tied comfortably around the neck.

2. Keep the arm elevated above heart level to keep swelling to a minimum.

Also, even though it might seem to make sense, never try to put a fractured bone back into its normal position, even if it has torn through skin and is exposed. Instead, keep the injured area clean and covered and head for the emergency room.

At The Doctor’s Office

There are two basic choices for treating a broken arm-internally or externally. External usually involves either a cast or splint and internal typically some type of surgery.

One of the most important things you can do to aid the doctor in choosing the best treatment is to be able to provide detail about what caused the break. If the physician knows that it was caused by a fall or snap instead of crushing, it can help with proper diagnosis. This also means faster treatment.

Besides inspecting the site of the break, the doctor may also take X-rays and reset the bone, both of which might require anesthetic. Because of this, it would also be a good idea to be able to explain any sensitivity or unusual reactions one may have to anesthetic.

Getting a Cast or Splint:

Your physician may use one of many types of casts or splints depending on the amount of support needed during healing. Most are made of either a fiberglass material or plaster which wraps around a softer cloth layer that is closest to the skin. A patient may have a single cast or splint throughout the healing process or it may be altered gradually as swelling goes down. A cast or splint may also be applied after surgery to help support the mended bone.

Caring for a Cast or Splint

In order for a cast or splint to do its job, it must be cared for and used properly.

1) In the first few days after application, continue to elevate the injured area to ease swelling and minimize pain just as was done when the injury first occurred. An ice pack can also be applied for a few minutes at a time throughout the day, as long as a thin barrier like a towel is between the pack and the cast.

2) Keep all areas of a cast or splint dry at all times. Cover with a plastic bag while bathing and dry gently with a hair dryer if it becomes damp. Check for damaged or softened areas daily and report problems to your doctor.

3) Never try to put powders or anti-itch treatments inside the cast. Never try to scratch inside.

4) Be aware of any tingling, numbness, unusual swelling or skin irritations that are beyond what your physician has prepared you for. These symptoms may mean the fit needs to be adjusted. Contact your doctor.

Rehab and Recovery

Recovery may take a few weeks or several months depending on the severity of the break. One of the earliest signs of healing is a decrease in pain. However, the arm will not be ready for normal activity just yet.

Keep these tips in mind to make sure there is full recovery:

1) Never remove a cast or other appliance by yourself unless instructed by your doctor.

2) Do not expect to return to regular activity immediately after a cast is removed. Joints and muscles will be weak from non-use. Try easier tasks first.

3) Follow prescribed physical therapy routines. You may be directed to see a professional, or your doctor may instruct you to do exercises to do at home. Both programs are designed to bring your arm back to full function gradually.

Finally, here’s a simple trick to jog your memory if you need to deal with a broken bone and don’t have a quick reference handy. Just remember S.E.T.-stabilize, elevate, and talk to a doctor as soon as possible.

Written by Cheryl Beck


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