Common Fractures of the Arm, Elbow, and Wrist

A fracture can be a painful thing. Fractures occur when a traumatic force is applied to the bones in the body and the bones are unable to tolerate the force. There are many ways that trauma can cause a fracture.

Sports injuries, automobile accidents, and falling can all cause a bone to break. Fractures of the arm are most commonly caused by falling on an outstretched hand, sometimes referred to as a FOOSH injury.

If you suspect you have suffered a fracture of the arm, elbow, or the wrist you must consult with your doctor or local emergency department. The initial treatment for a fracture is for your doctor to make sure the bones are in alignment for appropriate healing. If they're not, he or she may have to reduce the fracture by putting the bones in the proper position. This can be accomplished manually or by a surgical procedure depending on the severity and location of your fracture.

The fractured arm should generally be immobilized to ensure proper healing can take place. Immobilization is achieved with a cast or brace. Sometimes you may be required to wear a sling while your fracture heals. Your doctor, a physical therapist, or a brace specialist can help you learn how to properly size and wear your sling.

Physical therapy for an arm fracture usually starts after the cast or brace has been removed. Your doctor will prescribe physical therapy according to the type of fracture and healing you have. The most common goals after an arm fracture are to decrease pain and swelling and to restore normal range of motion, strength, and function in the arm while protecting the healing of the fracture. Fractures of the arm, wrist, and elbow can benefit from physical therapy. Some common arm and upper extremity fractures are listed below.

1

Collarbone (Clavicle) Fracture

a woman holding her collar bone

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The collarbone, or clavicle, is the bone that attaches the shoulder joint to the breastbone in the front of your chest. Fracture of the collarbone usually occurs with trauma, such as falling on your shoulder or during athletic activity. While most collarbone fractures will heal without surgery, sometimes surgery is needed. Physical therapy after a collarbone fracture involves restoring normal range of motion and strength to your shoulder and upper arm muscles.

2

Proximal Humeral (Upper Arm Bone) Fracture

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The proximal humerus is the part of your upper arm bone that is near your shoulder. A fracture can occur here if you fall on your shoulder or fall onto your outstretched hand.

Many proximal humeral fractures heal with rest and immobilization, while some fractures of the humerus may require surgery to stabilize the bone. You will likely need to wear a sling on your arm after a proximal humeral fracture.

Physical therapy after a proximal humeral fracture involves improving shoulder and arm range of motion and regaining normal strength in your shoulder and arm.

3

Elbow Fracture

a man holding his elbow.
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The elbow joint is made up of the union of three bones: the humerus (upper arm bone) and the radius and ulna (the bones of the forearm). A fall onto the elbow can cause a fracture of one, two, or three of these bones. Restoring a normal range of motion after an elbow fracture can be difficult, so physical therapy is an important component of elbow fracture rehabilitation.

4

Distal Radius Fracture

a woman applying cream to her wrist
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A distal radius fracture is a break in the wrist in which the larger of the two bones is broken. Specific names such as a Colles or Smith fracture may be attributed based on the pattern of the fracture. Depending on the degree of injury, manual reduction or surgery may be necessary to fix the problem.

5

Boxer's Fracture

a woman hitting a heavy bag
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A boxer's fracture is a break in one of the bones of your hand, near the pinky finger. This type of fracture is usually caused by punching or striking a hard object with a closed fist. A boxer's fracture is sometimes called a brawler's fracture. If you have suffered a boxer's fracture, your PT can help you restore normal hand and upper extremity function once the fracture heals.

A Word From Verywell

If you have suffered an upper extremity fracture, make sure you are seen by your doctor, who can determine the best treatment and make sure that it heals appropriately. He or she can also recommend a regimen of physical therapy to help you regain full mobility in your shoulder, arm, and wrist based on your specific injury.

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