Broken Arm (Fractured Arm)

A broken arm happens when any of the three bones in your arm are fractured. It’s more common to break one of the two bones in your forearm (your ulna and radius), but severe traumas like falls and car accidents can break your upper arm bone (humerus). Most people need to wear a cast for several weeks while their arm heals.


A broken arm is a bone fracture in any of your three arm bones.
It usually takes at least a few months to recover from a broken arm, depending on which type of fracture you have.

What is a broken arm?

A broken arm is a bone fracture (broken bone) in your arm. 

There are three bones in your arm, including your:

  • Humerus (upper arm bone).
  • Ulna (the bone in your forearm on the medial side — the same side as your pinkie finger).
  • Radius (the bone in your forearm on the lateral side — the same side as your thumb).

It’s possible that an injury could break all three of your arm bones at once, but it’s much more common to break only one of them at a time.

You might need surgery to repair a broken arm. Some people can recover without surgery and only need a cast, splint or brace. You’ll need physical therapy to regain your arm’s strength and ability to move.

Types of broken arms

In addition to saying which of your arm bones is broken, a healthcare provider will assign the fracture a type or classification.

Providers classify some fractures by the break’s shape or pattern:

Some types of fractures are classified by how they happen:

For example, you might have a transverse humerus fracture or a segmental radius fracture. All of the different names and types are ways for your provider to quickly and specifically say which bone is broken, and what the injury did to it. 

How common are broken arms?

Forearm fractures are one of the most common types of broken bones, especially among kids and teens. Experts estimate that around 1 in 100 children breaks their ulna or radius each year.

Humerus fractures are much less common. In fact, they’re less than 10% of all broken bones.


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Symptoms and Causes

What are signs and symptoms of a broken arm?

The most common symptoms of a broken arm include:

  • Pain.
  • Swelling.
  • Tenderness.
  • Not being able to move or use your arm.
  • Bruising or discoloration.
  • A bump (deformity) that’s not usually on your arm.

What does a broken arm look like?

Most broken arms will look visibly different than usual. You’ll probably notice swelling, discoloration or bruising near the fracture that spreads (radiates) to the area around it. There will probably also be a bump you can feel or see (deformity). You might be able to see bone poking through your skin.

What causes broken arms?

Broken arms are almost always caused by traumas. The most common causes include:

  • Falls (especially catching yourself with your arms stretched out in front of you).
  • Car accidents.
  • Sports injuries.

What are the risk factors?

Anyone can break their arm, but some people are more likely to, including:

  • Kids and teens.
  • Athletes who play contact sports.
  • People older than 65 (especially people who have an increased fall risk).
  • People with health conditions that affect their bone density (metabolic bone diseases).

People with osteoporosis or osteopenia are much more likely to experience bone fractures, especially from falls. Osteoporosis weakens bones, making them more susceptible to sudden and unexpected fractures. Many people don’t know they have osteoporosis until after it causes them to break a bone. There usually aren’t obvious symptoms.


Diagnosis and Tests

How do providers diagnose broken arms?

A healthcare provider will diagnose a broken arm with a physical exam and some imaging tests. Providers in the emergency room might diagnose the fracture if you’re taken to the ER after trauma like a car accident.

Which tests will I need?

You’ll need at least one of a few imaging tests to take pictures of the fracture:

  • X-rays: An X-ray will confirm any fractures and show how damaged your bones are.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Your provider might use an MRI to get a complete picture of the damage to your bones and the area around them. An MRI will show tissue like cartilage and ligaments around your bones, too.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: A CT scan will give your provider or surgeon a more detailed picture of your bones than an X-ray.

Management and Treatment

What is the treatment for a broken arm?

How your provider treats a broken arm depends on which bone is broken and if you have any other injuries.


If the fracture is mild and your bones didn’t move far out of place (a non-displaced fracture), you might only need a cast or splint. How long you’ll need to wear one depends on the type of fracture you have. Most people need a cast for several weeks. You’ll need follow-up X-rays to make sure your bones are healing correctly.


Some broken arms require surgery.

The most common surgery is an open reduction with internal fixation. Your surgeon will realign (set) your bone to their correct position and then secure it in place so it can heal and grow back together. They usually perform what’s called an internal fixation, which means your surgeon inserts metal plates, screws or pins into your bone to hold it in place while it heals.

You might live with these pieces inserted in your bone forever. Some people need follow-up surgery to remove them.

Broken arm surgery complications

Fracture surgery complications are rare but can include:

  • Acute compartment syndrome (ACS): A buildup of pressure in your muscles may stop blood from getting to tissue, which can cause permanent muscle and nerve damage.
  • Malunion: This happens when a broken bone doesn’t line up correctly while it heals.
  • Nonunion: Your bone may not grow back together fully or at all.



How can I prevent a broken arm?

You may not be able to prevent a broken arm, especially because traumas you can’t plan for cause them. You might be able to reduce your risk of injuries by following these general safety tips:

  • Always wear your seatbelt.
  • Wear the right protective equipment for all activities and sports.
  • Make sure your home and workspace are free of clutter that could trip you or others.
  • Always use the proper tools or equipment at home to reach things. Never stand on chairs, tables or countertops.
  • Follow a diet and exercise plan that’ll help you maintain good bone health.
  • Talk to your provider about a bone density test if you’re older than 65 or if you have a family history of osteoporosis.
  • Use a cane or walker if you have difficulty walking or have an increased risk of falls.

Outlook / Prognosis

How long does it take to recover after a broken arm?

It usually takes at least a few months to recover from a broken arm. Most people who break their arms need several months of physical therapy. A physical therapist will help you regain your strength and range of motion (how far you can move your arm). Your provider or surgeon will tell you what to expect.

How long does it take a broken arm to heal?

How long it takes your arm to heal depends on a few factors, such as:

  • Which bone was broken.
  • What caused the fracture.
  • Which treatments you need.
  • Any other injuries you experienced.

Most broken bones need a few months to heal. Talk to your provider or surgeon about a timeline that fits your specific situation.

Ask your provider when you can resume physical activities. You’ll need to move your arm to prevent stiffness as you heal, but don’t start playing sports, working out or lifting using your arm before your provider says it’s safe.

Living With

When should I go to the emergency room?

Go to the emergency room right away if you think you have a broken arm. Go to the ER if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Intense pain.
  • You can’t move your arm.
  • Your arm is noticeably different-looking or out of its usual place.
  • You can see bone through your skin.
  • Swelling.
  • New bruising that appears at the same time as any of these other symptoms.

What questions should I ask my provider?

Questions you may want to ask your provider include:

  • Which of my arm bones are broken?
  • Will I need surgery?
  • How long will I need to wear a cast?
  • How long will I need physical therapy?
  • When can I resume physical activities?

Additional Common Questions

How do I tell if my arm is sprained or broken?

Bone fractures (broken bones) and sprains are different injuries that the same kinds of traumas might cause.

Bone fractures happen when something damages a bone enough to crack, snap or crush it. You might be able to hear a loud crack or snapping sound when your arm breaks.

Sprains happen when one of your ligaments is stretched or torn. Ligaments are bands of tissue that connect bones throughout your body. You can sprain your wrist, elbow or shoulder. It’s possible that the same injury that breaks bones in your arm also sprains one or more joints, too.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Breaking any bone can be scary — and that’s especially true if it happens in your arm. Beyond the fright, pain and other symptoms, it might feel incredibly frustrating to learn you won’t be able to use or move your arm while it heals. But don’t rush your recovery. Give your body the time it needs to heal your broken bone. The good news is that broken arms usually heal with no long-term effects.

Ask your healthcare provider or surgeon how to take care of your cast if you need one. They’ll give you tips on doing everyday activities like bathing and getting dressed.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 01/16/2024.

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