First Aid Advice For Treating A Broken Arm

A man with broken arm in need of first aid

Table of Contents

What Is The First Aid For A Fractured Arm

Broken arms are a common occurrence in the childhood and teenage years. A broken bone anywhere on the body is called a fracture. Fractures can be hairline, greenstick fracture, or compound. Fractures to the arm require medical assessment, X-Rays, and stabilisation with the use of a cast or brace of some design that prevents movement of the broken bones while they heal. In some cases, surgical intervention may be required to pin and plate the bones into place for them to heal. 

What Kind Of Broken Bone Types Are There

Open Fracture

The broken bone is called an open fracture if any part of the broken bone pierces the skin and can be seen poking through the tissue and protruding from the arm. It is not normal to see any of your bones sticking out through your skin.

Closed Fracture

The bone is broken, but the skin around the fracture is intact and cannot be seen. However, broken bones may be considered unstable and cause internal bleeding. The person may develop shock on top of the broken arm that needs to be treated.

Comminuted Fracture 

Refers to a bone or bones that are broken in at least two places. Typically, this type of fracture is caused by severe impact traumas like car accidents or falling from height. You will need surgical intervention to repair your bone/s and require internal mechanical pinning, plating, screws, and staples to position and hold the bones in place while they heal. Recovery can take months to a year, depending on the severity and number of fractures to the length of the bone.

Greenstick Fracture

Are small, slender cracks in the bone that occur in children. Their bones are more flexible than an adult’s, so they act like a green stick and fracture in the same manner. Adult bones are more like dry sticks that tend to snap completely in half when broken.

Hairline Fracture

The most common form of a hairline fracture is also referred to as a stress fracture. Stress fractures are typically found in the shin bones and are a common injury for soldiers. Marathon runners and parkour advocates often find them in the feet or lower leg as a result of repeated impact stress from activities such as jogging, running, and jumping with impact lands from height.

Complicated Fracture

Tissue, organs, and structures surrounding the fracture are injured. There may be damage to the veins, arteries, or nerves as a result of the bone breaking and piercing the surrounding tissue or organs.

Avulsion Fracture

This type of fracture is common in the knee and shoulder joints. Muscles are anchored to bones with connective tissue called tendons. Powerful muscle contractions can wrench the tendon free and snap off pieces of bone using brute force.

Compression Fracture

This occurs when two bones are forced to rub or are compressed against each other. The vertebrae in the spine often display this type of fracture. Older people, particularly those with brittle bones, a condition known as osteoporosis, or sporty types with prolapsed discs that separate the vertebrae, are at higher risk.

Signs And Symptoms Of A Broken Arm Or Bone

  • You can see the bone/s sticking out
  • Pain and/or difficulty moving the arm
  • A grating noise or feeling from the ends of the broken bones rubbing together
  • Difficulty or being unable to move the limb normally
  • Deformity, swelling, and bruising around the fracture
  • A limb may look shorter, twisted, or bent at the wrong angle
  • Signs of shock, particularly when a large bone is fractured like a humorous, thigh bone, hip, or pelvis.

When To Call Emergency Services

All fractures need to be assessed by a qualified healthcare provider, and the majority of people will be able to take themselves to their GP or local Accident and emergency Department for treatment.

However, there will be cases where it is imperative that emergency services be called on 000 in Australia. The following is a list of occasions when called 000 could be lifesaving.

  • You suspect a bone is broken in the neck, head, or back and a spinal injury has occurred.
  • If the broken bone is the result of major MVA trauma or falling from height.
  • The person is unresponsive, isn’t breathing, or isn’t moving. (Enact DRSABCD protocol.)
  • The limb or joint appears deformed or is at an unnatural angle.
  • The extremity of the injured arm or limb is numb, cold to touch, or bluish at the tip.
  • The bone has pierced the skin and can be seen with the eyes.
  • There is heavy internal bleeding causing excessive swelling and oedema.
  • Gentle pressure or movement causes extreme pain.

How To Provide First Aid For A Broken Arm

If you are reading this and have never taken a First Aid course, now is the perfect time to jump online and check out our nationally accredited First Aid Training. Take the First Aid Quiz and see where your current knowledge lies and if you could use a refresher course as practices change as technology advances.

In the case of an emergency First Aid for a broken arm is to take these actions immediately while waiting for medical help to arrive:

  • Don’t move the person unless necessary to avoid further injury or commence CPR.
  • Stop any control bleeding.
  • Apply pressure to the wound with a sterile bandage, a clean cloth, or a clean piece of clothing if access to a First Aid kit is available.
  • Immobilise the injured area using the triangle bandage in your First Aid kit or a belt, clothing, or rope of some description to prevent further knocking or moving of the injured arm.
  • Don’t try to realign the bone or push a bone sticking out back in unless you have been trained in reduction techniques.
  • Apply a splint to the area above and below the fracture sites. Padding the splints can help reduce discomfort.
  • Apply ice packs to control swelling and relieve pain. 
  • Never apply ice directly to the skin as it can cause skin burns on top of the broken arm injury to treat. Wrap the ice in a towel, plastic wrap, or a bag of some description to act as a barrier, such as frozen peas.
  • Treat for shock. If the person feels faint or has short, rapid breaths, begins to feel ice cold, or wants to black out, lay them down with their head slightly lower than the trunk if possible, and elevate the legs thirty degrees.
  • Reassure the person.

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