Broken Arm (Upper) - Causes

The upper arm

The upper arm has one bone, called the humerus. At the top it meets the shoulder blade (scapula) to form the shoulder joint. At the bottom, with the two bones of the lower arm (radius and ulna), it forms the elbow joint.

Humerus Front

Breaking one or both of your forearm bones, particularly at the wrist, is fairly common; breaking your upper arm bone is much less common. If you do break your upper arm bone (humerus), it is most likely to break at the top - 6 times out of 10 this is where the upper arm bone breaks. It is called a proximal humerus fracture. The next most common place for the upper arm bone to break is at the elbow. When it breaks here it is called a distal fracture (supracondylar or transcondylar), an intercondylar fracture or a condylar fracture, depending on where exactly the bone has broken. The least common place for the upper arm bone to break is somewhere in the middle - this is called a shaft fracture.

How do you break your upper arm?

If you break your upper arm it is usually following a bad fall on to your elbow or shoulder or by something hitting it hard, such as being knocked down by a car. Falling on to your elbow or shoulder is likely to cause a broken upper arm (fractured humerus). You can also break your upper arm by falling on to your hand when your arm is straight, especially if it is out to your side.

If you are elderly, it is possible you have developed 'thinning' of the bones (osteoporosis). This makes it more likely that you will break your arm following a relatively minor fall or accident. Occasionally you can break your upper arm because you have developed a type of cancer that is affecting the bone and has made it so weak that it has cracked. This is called a pathological fracture.

In very small children their upper arm, particularly the shaft, can be broken by someone abusing them, by hitting or throwing them.

Young people who break the top of their upper arm (proximal fracture) are more likely than older people to have also dislocated their shoulder. This is because the amount of force needed to break a young person's arm is large and therefore it is more likely to have done other damage too.

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Author:
Dr Jacqueline Payne
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Adrian Bonsall
Document ID:
29399 (v1)
Last Checked:
16 May 2017
Next Review:
25 June 2020

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.