Forearm Fractures: Understanding the Radius and Ulna Fracture

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Forearm fractures are among the most common injuries involving the arm. This article will look at some of the common causes, symptoms, and treatment options.

Contact the expert orthopedic surgeons at JIS Orthopedics for quality care you can trust. We specialize in treatments for wrist and forearm injuries. You can find us in New Albany and St. Clairsville, Ohio.

What is a Forearm Fracture?

Your forearm has two bones—the radius and the ulna. In the majority of adult forearm fractures, both these bones are impacted.

Fractures in the forearm bones can manifest near the wrist, at the furthest distal end of the bone, in the middle of the forearm, or near the elbow joint, at the top proximal end of the bone. This article focuses on fractures that occur in the middle segments of the radius and ulna. Fractures affecting the wrist or elbow are covered in separate articles.

There are different types of forearm fractures:

  • Monteggia fracture
  • Greenstick fracture

What Are the Causes of a Forearm Fracture?

Forearm fractures most commonly result from:

  1. A direct blow
  2. Falling on an outstretched arm, often during sports or from a height
  3. Automobile or motorcycle accidents

How Do I Know If I Have a Forearm Fracture?

A broken forearm will normally hurt immediately after the impact. If both bones break, you are likely to see a deformity in your forearm. The deformity may be seen as a bend in the bone or one arm may be shorter than the other.

You may also experience the following symptoms:

  • Swelling
  • Difficulty rotating the arm
  • Bruising (although not so common)
  • Possibility of numbness or weakness in your fingers or wrist

Diagnosing Forearm Fractures

Determining whether you have a forearm fracture requires a physical examination by a medical professional, accompanied by a thorough review of your medical history. This examination is pivotal in assessing the extent of the injury and ensuring appropriate care. During the physical examination, the doctor will:

  • Inspect the affected area for any broken skin, as bone fragments might protrude through the skin, increasing the risk of infection.
  • Feel the area to identify any points of tenderness, which may indicate additional broken bones or associated injuries.
  • Check your pulse at the wrist to ensure proper blood flow to your hand.
  • Assess your ability to move your fingers and wrist, as well as your sensations in these areas. In some cases, nerves may sustain injuries simultaneously with the bone fracture, leading to hand and wrist weakness or numbness.

X-rays also play a critical role in the diagnosis of forearm fractures. They reveal the presence of a broken bone and any displacement between broken fragments. Additionally, they help determine the number of bone pieces involved in the fracture pattern.

Treatment Options for Forearm Fractures

Treating any broken bone involves realigning the bones to their proper position and then immobilizing the wrist and elbow joints so that the bones heal properly. Immobilization is especially important when one of the forearm bones has broken because they rely on each other for support.

Non-surgical treatment may be possible when the fracture involves one of the forearm bones and the fracture is not misaligned. When the fracture involves both the radius and ulnar, surgical treatment is usually necessary. The following methods may be used to treat a forearm fracture:

Cast or Brace

This treatment may be used if only one bone is broken and it is not out of place, such as with non-displaced ulnar shaft fractures. A cast or brace is used to immobilize the fractured bone while it heals.

Open Reduction and Internal Fixation with Plates and Screws

Your surgeon will reposition the broken fragments through open surgery (open reduction). A metal plate will be attached to the outer surface of the bone and hold the fragments together using surgical screws.

Open Reduction and Internal Fixation with Rods

Once the surgeon has realigned the bones a metal rod will be inserted through the marrow space inside the bone. This will keep the bone in alignment while it heals.

External Fixation

This may be used if the skin, muscles, and bone are severely damaged. Your surgeon will use an external fixator. Pins and screws are used to hold the bones in place above and below the fracture site.

These are then attached to a bar outside the skin. This device is a stabilizing frame that holds the bones in the proper position so they can heal.

Complications Due to Forearm Fractures

Some complications may arise from forearm fractures. Complications include the following:

  • Stiffness
  • Damage to blood vessels and nerves
  • Compartment syndrome
  • Bone infection

While complications can arise during the treatment of forearm fractures, timely medical attention and adherence to treatment recommendations can significantly mitigate the risk. It is essential to follow the guidance of orthopedic surgeons and attend follow-up appointments to ensure optimal healing and recovery.

Book a Wrist Exam Today

For comprehensive care of radius and ulna fractures, contact JIS Orthopedics. Our orthopedic surgeons serve patients in New Albany and St. Clairsville, OH. Our experienced team of orthopedic specialists is committed to providing the best possible care to help you recover from forearm fractures and regain optimal function. Contact us today!

Medically reviewed by AJ Julka, MD

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If you’re suffering from finger pain, hand pain, wrist pain, or any upper extremity injuries, learn how Dr. AJ Julka and JIS Orthopedics can help you get back to living your life without limits. To schedule a consultation, click the button below!


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