Fractures – Forearm | Orthopaedics | Loyola Medicine

Fractures – Forearm

Overview and Facts about Forearm Fractures

A fracture to the forearm usually involves both bones that make up the forearm, the radius and the ulna. If only one bone in this area is broken, it is usually the ulna.

Pain and swelling are the most common indications of this type of fracture. If the fracture site has a cut or one or both bones penetrate the skin after this injury, it is important to seek immediate medical attention to minimize the risk of infection. 

Symptoms of Forearm Fractures

A traumatic event, accompanied with pain and swelling, are the most common signs of a forearm fracture. You may also notice a visible deformity in the affected arm and need to support it with your other arm. Other symptoms include:

  • Bruising
  • Bleeding from the fracture site
  • Inability to lift and/or rotate the forearm

Causes and Risk Factors of Forearm Fractures

A traumatic event, such as an automobile accident, is a common cause of this injury. Fracture to the forearm may also occur because of a direct blow to the area or as a result of a fall onto an outstretched arm. Athletes are at a greater risk for this injury. 

Tests and Diagnosis of Forearm Fractures

If you suspect a forearm fracture, you should go right away to an immediate care center or emergency room for diagnosis and treatment. Your doctor will begin by reviewing your medical history, including the event that caused the possible fracture. He/she will examine the injured area for cuts, tenderness and swelling, as well as take your pulse to make sure blood is flowing appropriately to the affected arm.

Your doctor will ask you to move your fingers and wrist to assess any nerve damage and check other areas of your arm for further injuries. He/she will order X-rays to determine which bones need to be repaired and the extent of the injury. 

Treatment of Forearm Fractures

Immediate treatment for a forearm fracture is repositioning the bones in their original place and making sure they are properly stabilized. Your doctor will provide medication for pain before moving the bones back in place (a process called reduction) and place your arm in a splint to hold it in place.

If the fracture is “open” or “compound,” (i.e., there is a cut in the skin at the fracture site) surgery is the most common form of treatment. If the fracture is not open, it may be treated with only a cast or brace, as determined by your doctor.

For fractures that involve both bones and/or have cuts or lacerations in the skin around the injury site, surgery is usually necessary.

Surgeries to treat forearm fractures include:

  • Open reduction with internal fixation: Bone fragments are repositioned into normal alignment and held in place by screws, rods or plates.
  • External fixation: Pins and screws are placed above and below the fracture to stabilize the bones in place and attached to a bar placed outside the skin.

Rehabilitation after a forearm fracture includes anti-inflammatory medication as prescribed by your doctor.

  • Non-surgical rehab: You will most likely wear a cast or brace for several weeks, then begin a physical therapy routine to strengthen your arm and improve range of motion.
  • Rehab after surgery: After surgery, you may wear a cast or brace for a period of time as determined by your doctor, then begin a physical therapy routine to strengthen your arm and improve range of motion.

Your doctor will determine when it is safe to return to daily activities and sports after treatment for a forearm fracture.