Broken Arm (Upper) - Symptoms

Authored by Dr Jacqueline Payne, 16 May 2017

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Dr Adrian Bonsall, 16 May 2017

If you have had a fall or hit your arm you might feel or hear a snap or a cracking sound.

The main symptom is pain, which will be worse if you try to move your arm. A broken upper arm (fractured humerus) can be extremely painful, so much so that you may feel sick, dizzy or faint.

Other symptoms of a broken upper arm are:

  • You will be unable to use your arm.
  • Your elbow or upper arm may be swollen.
  • Your elbow or upper arm may bruise.
  • If it is a very severe break, your arm may be a different shape.
  • You may notice tingling or numbness.
  • There may be bleeding if the broken bone (or your fall) has damaged the skin.

If you have dislocated your shoulder at the same time as breaking your upper arm, you may also notice that your shoulder is out of place or deformed.

If you think you have broken your upper arm you should get medical advice immediately. It is important to treat a broken upper arm (fractured humerus) as soon as possible, so that it can start to heal properly. You should go to your nearest Accident and Emergency (A&E) Department or Minor Injuries Unit. Putting your arm into a sling that goes under your arm and around the back of your neck before you go, will make the journey easier. If you haven't got a sling, you can make one out of a square scarf folded in half diagonally.

arm sling

If it's a bad break, call 999/112/911 for an ambulance.

Further reading and references

  • Kim SH, Szabo RM, Marder RA; Epidemiology of humerus fractures in the United States: nationwide emergency department sample, 2008. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2012 Mar64(3):407-14. doi: 10.1002/acr.21563.

  • Jordan RW, Modi CS; A review of management options for proximal humeral fractures. Open Orthop J. 2014 Jun 278:148-56. doi: 10.2174/1874325001408010148. eCollection 2014.

  • Wang Y, Zhuo Q, Tang P, et al; Surgical interventions for treating distal humeral fractures in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jan 311:CD009890. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD009890.pub2.

  • Clement ND; Management of Humeral Shaft Fractures Non-Operative Versus Operative. Arch Trauma Res. 2015 Jun 20

  • Pandya NK, Baldwin KD, Wolfgruber H, et al; Humerus fractures in the pediatric population: an algorithm to identify abuse. J Pediatr Orthop B. 2010 Nov19(6):535-41. doi: 10.1097/BPB.0b013e32833ce424.

  • Harding P, Rasekaba T, Smirneos L, et al; Early mobilisation for elbow fractures in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Jun 15(6):CD008130. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD008130.pub2.

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