When Your Child Has a Forearm Fracture - University of Minnesota Children's Hospital
 
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When Your Child Has a Forearm Fracture

Your child has a forearm fracture. That means he or she has a crack or break in one or more of the bones of the forearm. The forearm is made up of two bones: 

  • Radius. The bone on the thumb side of the forearm.

  • Ulna. The bone on the little-finger side of the forearm. 

Your child may see an orthopedist for evaluation and treatment. An orthopedist is a doctor who diagnoses and treats bone and joint problems.

Types of forearm fractures

Palm view of hand and forearm showing radius and ulna. Greenstick fracture goes partway through radius. Growth plates are near wrist.

Palm view of hand and forearm showing radius and ulna. Nondisplaced fractures go across radius and ulna. Ends of bones are lined up. Growth plates are near wrist.

Palm view of hand and forearm showing radius and ulna. Displaced fractures go across radius and ulna. Ends of bones are not lined up. Growth plates are near wrist.

Types of fractures

Bones can break in many ways. Common types of fractures in children are:

  • Greenstick. The bone bends, but doesn’t break all the way through.

  • Nondisplaced. The bone breaks completely, but the ends remain lined up.

  • Displaced. The pieces of broken bone are not lined up.

  • Growth plate. A break near or through the growth plate, the soft part of a bone where the bone grows as the child grows. A growth plate injury can slow growth in that bone. Growth plate injuries may be difficult to treat.

Fractures can be open (the broken bone comes through the skin). These used to be called “compound” fractures. Fractures can also be closed (the broken bone does not come through the skin).

What causes forearm fractures?

Forearm fractures can happen when one or both of the forearm bones (the radius and ulna) are injured during a fall. Falling on an outstretched hand often leads to a forearm fracture. A direct hit to the forearm can also cause a fracture.

What are the signs and symptoms of forearm fractures?

  • Swelling

  • Pain

  • Bruising or discoloration of the skin

  • Extreme pain while putting weight or pressure on the forearm

  • Crooked appearance

  • Popping or snapping heard during the injury

How are forearm fractures diagnosed?

You may have brought your child to the emergency room (also called the emergency department) for the initial treatment of the forearm fracture. A treatment plan must now be made to make sure the forearm heals properly. The health care provider will ask about your child’s health history and examine your child. An imaging test, such as an X-ray, will be done. Imaging tests show areas inside the body such as the bones. They give the health care provider more information about your child’s injury.

How are forearm fractures treated?

Your child’s treatment plan is determined by the type, location, and severity of the fracture. As instructed, your child should:

  • Ice the area 3–4 times a day for 15–20 minutes at a time. Never put ice directly onto your child's skin. Use an ice pack or bag of frozen peas—or something similar—wrapped in a thin towel. Do this to help relieve pain and swelling.

  • Wear a splint (device that keeps the forearm still so it can heal) as instructed.

  • Wear a cast for 3–6 weeks.

  • Elevate the arm to reduce swelling. Keep the elbow above heart level as often as possible.

Some fractures may require closed reduction (moving broken pieces of bone back into alignment). Closed reduction is done from outside of the body and requires no incisions. For fractures of the joint, of the growth plate, or severe fractures, surgery may be necessary. During surgery, fixation devices (pins that go through the skin into the bone) may be put into broken bone to hold it in place while it heals. These devices may need to be taken out by the doctor about 3–6 weeks after surgery.

Call the health care provider if your child has any of the following:

  • Tingling, numbness, or pain around the cast or splint

  • Increasing swelling around the injured area

  • Increasing pain

  • Fingers that change color or feel cold

  • Severe itching under a cast (mild itching is normal)

  • A cast that feels too tight or too loose

 

What are the long-term concerns?

Your child’s forearm may look different than it did before the fracture. It may look slightly crooked. This is normal. The bone is going through a process called remodeling. During remodeling, the repaired bone slowly reshapes itself. The forearm will usually straighten as the bone reshapes. This process often takes 1–2 years. There may also be a temporary loss of motion. This is normal. Your child’s health care provider will give you more information.

 

 
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