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What is humerus fracture treatment?

A humerus fracture, which is a complete or partial breakage of the upper arm bone, is most commonly caused by trauma, particularly a fall, and accounts for 3 percent of all fractures. The treatment that is most suited for your humerus fracture depends on a number of factors including age, current health, the severity of the fracture, and history with various medications and treatments. 

Diagnosis

A humerus fracture can reduce your ability to easily perform daily tasks. If you have any reason to think that you may have a fracture in your humerus, it is important to seek medical attention. To best diagnose your injury, your doctor will ask a series of questions about your health history and how the injury occurred. One or more of these tests will help locate the exact location of the fracture:

  • X-ray (radiograph)—This is the first test done to determine where the fracture is located and the extent of the injury. It is done using an X-ray beam that is sent through the shoulder and upper arm area. Bone absorbs the radiation, making it appear on the transposed image. This is usually a sufficient test to see the location and severity of the fracture.
  • Computed tomography scan (CT or CAT scan)—A CAT scan is a combination of X-ray and computer technologies and may be used if the X-ray is not clear.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)—If further imaging is needed, an evaluation of surrounding soft tissue structures are needed or the patient cannot be exposed to more radiation, an MRI will be done. This uses magnetic fields that generate vibrations through radio waves aimed at the shoulder and upper arm area. These vibrations are then transposed onto a high-definition computer image

Types of humerus fracture treatments

Nonsurgical treatment

If the humerus fracture is stable or not displaced, a splint may be used to immobilize it while it heals. This type of nonsurgical approach will be monitored throughout the healing process to ensure that there are no complications and that the bone is in fact healing as it should. Once the doctor is certain that there are no bone fragments or that anything is out of place, the patient may be able to start moving it after a few weeks. This will help speed the recovery time. The patient still will be advised to avoid lifting anything heavy until the fracture has healed completely.

Surgery

In cases where a humerus fracture has been displaced or the bone has lacerated the skin, surgery will be required. The aim of most humerus fracture surgeries is to realign the bones and guide them as they heal. Most humerus fractures are treated using one of the following techniques:

  • Internal fixation—Through the use of pins, metal plates and screws, one or all of these pieces will be affixed to the bone to help reconnect the broken pieces and stabilize them for healing. The incision is typically made behind the elbow. Because of this, after surgery the patient will likely have to remain in a splint to reduce any strain on the incision.
  • Elbow replacement—This is a unique treatment, but when the lower part of the humerus has been damaged, the elbow may have received equal force of the impact and may need to be replaced. This is most common in elderly patients. A metal or plastic implant will be used to replace the elbow. The procedure is similar to that of a hip or knee replacement.
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