What Is a Humerus Fracture?

Christian Petersen

The humerus is the bone of the upper arm that connects the forearm to the shoulder. A fracture, in medical terms is a break, so put simply, a humerus fracture is a broken arm. There are many types of fractures described by medical science, but all of them refer to some type of bone break.

A humerus fracture is a broken arm, and will require a cast.
A humerus fracture is a broken arm, and will require a cast.

Fractures of the upper arm are classified by their location on the bone. In most cases, a humerus fracture does not require surgery, since most often the fracture occurs in the shaft of the bone. Fractures located near one of the ends of the humerus, where it joins either the elbow or the shoulder are more likely to require surgery.

A sling may be required to treat a humerus fracture.
A sling may be required to treat a humerus fracture.

A humerus fracture located near the shoulder joint is called a proximal fracture, due to its relative nearness to the centerline of the body. This end of the humerus is a large rounded knob that forms the ball of the ball and socket joint of the shoulder. These types of fractures may result in damage to the tendons that connect the humerus to the shoulder joint.

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A mid-shaft humerus fracture is a fracture located somewhere along the main shaft of the bone, away from either end, where the bone thickens at the shoulder and elbow joints. These are by far the most common type of humerus fracture and do not normally require surgery, as doctors can often re-align and set the bone without resorting to surgery. This is only the case for simple fractures, however.

Distal fractures of the humerus are those in which the bone breaks near the elbow joint. These types of fractures are much more common in children than adults and may require surgery, as there may be small splinters or fragments of bone. In all three types of humerus fracture, damage to the radial nerve is possible but is most common in mid-shaft fractures. This can result in numbness of parts of the forearm and hand, though most people suffering this type of injury recover fully within a few months.

Treatment for most humerus fractures consists of a brace or sling. A cast is often not possible or helpful for these types of breaks. The patient must take care, as much as possible, to refrain from moving the arm.

In medical terms, fractures can also be classified by the type of fracture as well as location. A compound fracture has occurred when the broken ends of bone protrude through the skin, which is not the case in a simple fracture. A fracture in which the bone has broken into more than two pieces is a comminuted fracture. If the ends of the bone are not aligned after the fracture, the break is called a displaced fracture.

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