The medical term for breaking the bone in your upper arm is a humerus fracture (your humerus). Traumas like car accidents or falls are the most common causes of humerus fractures. You might require surgery to repair your broken bone if you break your humerus. Some patients only require a splint, cast, or sling to heal and don’t require surgery. To get your arm moving again, you’ll need physical therapy.
What is a humerus fracture?
The humerus is a long bone that extends from the shoulder and scapula (shoulder blade) to the elbow. It is also referred to as the upper arm bone. Proximal humerus fractures and humerus shaft fractures are the two categories used to classify humerus fractures.
A proximal humerus fracture can occur at different levels and with either a simple or comminuted fracture pattern. It typically happens close to the shoulder joint. On the other hand, a fracture of the humerus shaft is limited to the middle of the upper arm.
Locations and anatomy of humerus fracture
Your healthcare professional might mention the location of the fracture on your humerus. The most frequent terms you’ll hear when talking to a provider about a particular bone are:
Location (proximal and distal)
The terms “proximal” and “distal” describe where a fracture occurs along the length of your bone. The top of your humerus is the proximal end. The bottom is the distal end. The top of your upper arm bone, which is where it joins your shoulder, is broken if you have a proximal humerus fracture. Similar to this, if you have a distal humerus fracture, your bone has broken nearer to your elbow, at the bottom.
Anatomy (parts of your bones)
Even though your bones are one solid piece, a fracture can still cause damage to many of their individual components. Your humerus has a head, a shaft, and a distal aspect that are all located close to your shoulder (the end at the bottom, near your elbow). Other common names for your bone’s specific regions include the surgical neck and greater tuberosity. As they describe where your bone is damaged, these terms are typically more appropriate for your healthcare provider to use.
What causes humerus fracture?
Any hard blow or injury to your arm can result in a humerus fracture, but certain types are more likely to occur. Breaking your fall with an outstretched arm, for example, can frequently result in mid-shaft and proximal humerus fractures. A distal humerus fracture is more likely in a high-impact collision, such as a car accident or football tackle.
Humerus fractures can also be pathologic fractures, which occur as a result of a bone-weakening condition. This makes your bones more susceptible to breaks from everyday activities that would not normally result in an injury.
Things that can cause pathologic humerus fractures include, osteoporosis, bone cancer, bone cysts or tumors and bone infection.
Symptoms of a humerus fracture?
Symptoms vary depending on the type of fracture, but may include pain, swelling, and bruising, inability to move the shoulder, a grinding sensation when the shoulder is moved, deformity, and, in rare cases, bleeding (open fracture), as well as loss of normal arm use if a nerve injury occurs.
Types of humerus fracture?
Supracondylar humerus fractures
If you break your humerus just above your elbow, you may have a supracondylar fracture. This is a type of elbow fracture that almost always occurs in children. Supracondylar humerus fractures are typically caused by a child catching themselves from a fall while holding their arm out in front of them. A supracondylar fracture will be diagnosed and treated similarly to any other broken bone by your provider.
Open vs. closed fractures
Your medical professional will determine whether your fracture is open or closed. When you have an open fracture, your skin is broken by the bone. Open fractures typically require more time to heal and carry a higher risk of complications like infections. Although your bone doesn’t protrude through your skin, closed fractures are still serious.
Displaced humerus fractures
Your doctor may also refer to your fracture as displaced or non-displaced. A displaced fracture occurs when the pieces of your bone moved so much after it broke that a gap appeared around the fracture. Non-displaced fractures still result in broken bones, but the fragments weren’t dislodged far enough to cause alignment issues. The likelihood that a fracture will need surgery to be repaired is much higher.
Treatment for a humerus fracture?
Proximal Humeral Fracture
If the bone fragments are not misaligned, most proximal humerus fractures can be treated without surgery (displaced). Surgery is frequently done to facilitate earlier mobility if the fragments are misplaced. However, when choosing between surgical fixation and nonoperative treatment, additional factors are also taken into account.
For non-operative treatment, the shoulder is typically immobilized for the first two weeks with a sling or other device. After that, the patient will receive weekly exercises to gradually extend the range of motion in the shoulder. To make sure the fracture is healing properly, an X-ray of the shoulder will be taken every week or every two weeks.
The fracture fragments are usually fixed with plates, screws, or pins during surgery. Shoulder replacement may be required for severe fractures with previous arthroscopy (joint degeneration). Physical therapy is started immediately after surgery to help with mobility.
Humerus Shaft Fracture
Depending on the fracture pattern and any accompanying injuries, a humerus shaft fracture may be treated surgically or non-surgically (i.e., nerve injury or open fracture). For initial fracture management, a temporary splint holding the elbow bent at 90 degrees and extending from the shoulder to the forearm may be used.
The placement of fracture bracing is a common nonoperative procedure that is followed by the replacement of that bracing with a cylinder brace (Sarmiento brace) that fits the upper arm but leaves the elbow free, three to four weeks later. Your physician will advise you on how long to wear the cast or splint and will remove it as needed. The broken arm may not fully heal for several weeks or even months.
In order to regain flexibility, joint range of motion, and muscle strength, rehabilitation involves gradually increasing activity levels. The process of rehabilitation requires the patient’s cooperation. The patient is required to perform daily strengthening, range-of-motion, and other prescribed exercises. Up until the muscles, ligaments, and other soft tissues are functioning normally, rehabilitation will be continued.
Internal fixation of the fragments using plates, screws, or a nail is typically done during surgery. With no splints or casts, rehabilitation differs slightly from nonoperative treatment. Typically, a sling is provided to the patient for comfort and arm support. Depending on the fracture pattern, shoulder exercises may be postponed for a few weeks while elbow exercises can begin right away after surgery.
Surgery to fix fractures of the humerus
Certain circumstances and specific fracture types call for surgery. Any open fracture requires surgery in order to clean out all debris and remove any dead tissue.
There are three types of surgery used to fix fractures of the humerus:
- Internal fixation with a plate and screws
- Internal fixation with an intramedullary rod
- External fixation
Zealmax Ortho is one of the most established, well-known, and dependable manufacturers and exporters of humerus fracture orthopedic implants. We have a dedicated team of experts on staff who are experts in the production and supply of various plates, nails, and implants.