First Aid for a Broken Arm
Fractures or dislocations of the arm are common injuries. They can affect the shoulder, upper arm, elbow, forearm or wrist.
The upper arm bone, called the humerus, is most often broken in a fall, and a typical victim is an elderly person. The humerus can also be fractured by a direct blow.
The forearm, the region between the elbow and the wrist, has two bones called the radius and ulna, which can be broken either by a direct blow or by a fall onto the outstretched hand (FOOSH).
These injuries may be open fractures – where the bone ends protrude through the skin – because the bones have relatively little tissue surrounding them to cushion the impact.
The joints of the arm can also be injured. The shoulder may be dislocated by a pulling force, a fall directly onto the point of the shoulder, or a fall onto the outstretched hand. At the elbow, fractures or dislocations often occur after a fall onto an outstretched hand, especially in children. These injuries need careful handling as there is a risk of damage to blood vessels and nerves around the elbow from the broken bone ends.
The most common wrist injury is a fracture of the lower end of the radius, called a Colles’ fracture. Falls onto the outstretched hand may also break one of the tiny carpal bones that make up the wrist itself. Because of the way the carpal bones are organized, wrist dislocation is rare – though sprains are common.
Treatment for a Broken Arm
- Ask the patient to sit down. You will need to immobilize the arm and shoulder by placing the arm in a sling.
- Place the arm in a comfortable position across the chest and ask the patient to support it.
- Use a triangular bandage as an arm sling. Place some soft padding – such as clothing or a folded towel – between the injured arm and the bandage where it lies against the chest. Tie the sling in position to support the arm.
- Tie a broad bandage over the sling and around the chest to secure the sling in place, avoiding the injured area if possible.
- Take or send the patient to hospital or urgent care center in a sitting position.
How to Make an Arm Sling
Follow these steps to make an arm sling using a triangular bandage.
- Ask the patient to support the injured arm at the elbow, with the hand slightly above the horizontal position.
- Drape a triangular bandage under the arm, with its long side down the unaffected side of the body, the top round the neck and the point level with the elbow on the affected side.
- Fold the lower end of the bandage up over the forearm and tie it securely over the shoulder with the knot resting in the hollow above the collarbone (clavicle).
- Fold the point of the bandage forwards over the elbow, tuck in and fasten with a safety pin or medical tape.