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How To Recognize and Treat a Broken Arm

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Updated September 25, 2011

Deformed broken forearm

A broken arm may be deformed

Rod Brouhard
Broken arms are very painful injuries and rarely life-threatening emergencies. Learn to recognize a broken arm to decide how to respond to it.

Signs and symptoms of a broken arm:

  • pain (almost always present)
  • swelling
  • bruising
  • deformity (arm appears out-of-place)
  • numbness or tingling
  • broken skin with bone visible
  • limited mobility of the arm
Time Required: Depends on the severity of the broken arm

Here's How:

  1. Safety First! Make sure the victim is in a safe location. It is more important to worry about rescuer and victim ongoing safety than to worry about one broken arm. Follow universal precautions and wear personal protective equipment if you have it.
  2. Check ABC's. Make sure the victim has an Airway, is Breathing, and has Circulation. Broken arms can be very distracting injuries. Most of the time, however, they look worse than they are.
  3. Control bleeding.
  4. Look for other injuries. If a victim shows signs of injury to the head, neck, or back, DO NOT move the victim.
  5. Cover any broken skin with sterile dressings. If needed, the wound can be rinsed -- try to use sterile water or saline solution.
  6. If an ambulance is responding, have the victim remain still and wait for the ambulance. If an ambulance is unavailable, it may be necessary to splint the broken arm. Be sure to immobilize the joints (elbow, wrist, shoulder) above and below the break. Do not wrap the arm too tight.
  7. Put ice on the break to reduce swelling. Put a sheet or towel between the ice and the skin to prevent frostbite. Leave ice on for 15 minutes, then remove ice for 15 minutes.

Tips:

  1. Remember, DO NOT move a victim with suspected head, neck, or back injuries unless it is to keep rescuers or victim safe.
  2. DO NOT straighten a broken arm or change its position unless the victim's hand (on the arm with the break) is cold, blue, numb, or paralyzed. Only attempt to return a deformed arm to the anatomical position.
  3. Call 911 for a leg broken above the knee, a broken hip, a broken pelvis, a neck or back injury, or a head injury. It is still acceptable to summon an ambulance for a broken arm, but call on the ambulance agency's non-emergency line.
  4. If splinting the broken arm, make a sling to support the arm's weight and wrap a swath around the victim's torso to immobilize the broken arm.
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