(Broken Arm; Radial Fracture; Ulnar Fracture)
A forearm fracture is a break in one or both bones of the forearm.
The forearm consists of two bones:
- Radius—the smaller of the two bones, runs along the thumb side of your arm
- Ulna—the larger of the two bones, runs along the little finger side of your arm
Forearm Fracture with Swelling
A forearm fracture is caused by trauma to the bone. Trauma may include:
- Fall on an outstretched arm
- Fall directly on the forearm
- Direct blow to the forearm
- Twisting the arm beyond the elbow's normal range of motion
Forearm fracture is more common in older adults.
Factors that may increase your risk of forearm fracture include:
- Certain diseases or conditions that result in bone or mineral loss, such as abnormal or absent menstrual cycles, or post- menopause
- Certain diseases and conditions that weaken bones, such as tumors or cysts
- Poor nutrition
- Certain congenital bone conditions
- Decreased muscle mass
- Participating in contact sports
A forearm fracture may cause:
- Pain, often severe
- Tenderness, swelling, and bruising around the injury
- Decreased range of motion
- A lump or visible deformity over the fracture site
You will be asked about your symptoms, your physical activity, and how the injury occurred. The injured area will be examined.
Imaging tests assess the bones, surrounding structures, and soft tissues. This can be done with:
Proper treatment can prevent long-term complications or problems with your forearm. Treatment will depend on how serious the fracture is, but may include:
Extra support may be needed to protect, support, and keep your forearm in line while it heals. Supportive steps may include a splint, brace, or cast. A sling may be necessary to help stabilize your arm.
Some fractures cause pieces of bone to separate. Your doctor will need to put these pieces back into their proper place. This may be done:
- Without surgery—you will have anesthesia to decrease pain while the doctor moves the pieces back into place
- With surgery—pins, screws, plates, or wires may be needed to reconnect the pieces and hold them in place
Children’s bones are still growing at an area of the bone called the growth plate. If the fracture affected the growth plate, your child may need to see a specialist. Injuries to the growth plate will need to be monitored to make sure the bone can continue to grow as expected.
The following medications may be advised:
- Over-the-counter medication to reduce inflammation and pain
- Prescription pain medication
Check with your doctor before taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or aspirin.
Note: Aspirin is not recommended for children or teens with a current or recent viral infection. This is because of the risk of Reye syndrome. Ask your doctor which medications are safe for your child.
To help reduce your chance of a forearm fracture, take these steps:
- Do not put yourself at risk for trauma to the bone.
- Always wear a seatbelt when driving or riding in a car.
- Do weight-bearing and strengthening exercises regularly to build strong bones.
- Wear proper padding and safety equipment when participating in sports or activities.
To help reduce falling hazards at work and home, take these steps:
- Clean spills and slippery areas right away.
- Remove tripping hazards such as loose cords, rugs, and clutter.
- Use non-slip mats in the bathtub and shower.
- Install grab bars next to the toilet and in the shower or tub.
- Put in handrails on both sides of stairways.
- Walk only in well-lit rooms, stairs, and halls.
- Keep flashlights on hand in case of a power outage.
American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
OrthoInfo.org—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
Adult forearm fractures. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00584. Updated July 2011. Accessed September 25, 2014.
Distal radius fracture. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated September 15, 2014. Accessed September 25, 2014.
Preventing falls and related fractures. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bone/Osteoporosis/Fracture/prevent_falls.asp. Updated January 2012. Accessed September 25, 2014.
4/25/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance. http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Bruno MA, Weissman BN. American College of Radiology (ACR) Appropriateness Criteria for acute hand and wrist trauma. Available at: http://www.acr.org/~/media/ACR/Documents/AppCriteria/Diagnostic/AcuteHandAndWristTrauma.pdf. Updated 2013. Accessed September 25, 2014.
Last reviewed August 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.