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Falling heavily onto an outstretched arm can, if you’re unlucky, result in a broken arm or wrist. Don’t panic though, as most breaks of this kind heal within eight weeks in adults, and children recover even faster. When you go to your doctor, they might refer to the break as a fracture, as this is the general medical term for a break or a crack in a bone.
If you have a broken wrist or arm then it will be very painful, with swelling, tenderness and possibly bleeding around the affected area. You might also get these symptoms with a sprain or a strain, so it’s important to have an X ray to confirm whether you have a broken wrist or not. This is done at the hospital, so you need to make sure not to eat or drink anything before you go, just in case you need general anaesthetic. It’s also a good idea to have some kind of wrist support or sling to stabilise your arm. You can also try applying ice, which may reduce the swelling and lessen the pain.
Depending on how severe your injury is, you’ll usually be given some painkillers as soon as you arrive at hospital, before being taken for an X ray. If you have a simple fracture, you can probably just have a plaster cast, which will hold your bones together as they heal. From here you’ll be sent home with information on looking after your cast and some more painkillers. You’ll also need to attend a fracture clinic so doctors can monitor your progress.
With a more serious broken wrist or arm, your bones may have become misaligned so they need to be put back into the right position. You’ll be given anaesthetic, then the doctors will pull your bones back together, before giving you a plaster cast.
Some extreme cases need surgery to realign and fix the bones using plates, wires, rods and screws, with the metalwork kept in place for as long as possible to help your bones to heal. Having a broken limb can be extremely painful and inconvenient, as you won’t be able to drive and are likely to need some time off work.
It is important to wear a wrist support even for a while after having your cast removed, and you may benefit from some physiotherapy, too. Your arm and wrist can become weakened from being in a cast, so you need to restore strength in your muscles. Once you’ve had the plaster cast taken off, be aware that your chances of cracking your bones again are higher (even more so in children) so try to avoid any activities which could cause you to fall for at least a couple more weeks, lessening your likelihood of another broken wrist or arm.