The upper arm bone (called the humerus) is the bone that runs between the elbow and the shoulder. Humerus fractures account for a remarkably small proportion of total bone fractures: only 3%. The humerus is a strong bone – analogous to the femur in the leg (which is the strongest bone in the body). The humerus does not absorb the intensity of stress that the forearm bones (known as the radius and the ulna) do when you fall and catch yourself with your hands, since the humerus is further up the chain of bones. Nonetheless, falling down is responsible for the bulk of humerus fractures. People with osteoporosis (whose bones have been made thin and porous through mineral loss) are especially vulnerable to humerus fractures.
Of all humerus fractures, only 10% cause substantial bone displacement. This means that the vast majority of humerus fractures can be treated non-operatively. They can be immobilized and stabilized without surgery. Of the humerus fractures that do need surgery, many are toward the elbow (i.e., toward the humerus’ distal end).
Anatomy of the Upper Arm
The bone of the upper arm articulates with the shoulder blade at its proximal end and with the radius and ulna (the forearm bones) at its distal end. It consists of the following:
Types of Humerus Fractures
Humerus Fractures can be divided into three main types:
Causes of Humerus Fractures
A humerus fracture is generally the result of a fall or a blow to the arm. The following are the causes of humerus fractures:
Symptoms of Humerus Fractures
Different types of humerus fracture have somewhat different symptoms, since they occur in different locations. But they are generalizable. If you fracture your humerus, the portion of it that you have fractured will hurt intensely, swell and feel stiff. If your nerves have been damaged by the fracture, your hand and wrist will likely be weak and experience strange sensations. If you have fractured your distal humerus, you elbow may feel unstable – like the joint is going to separate.
The following are common humerus fracture symptoms:
The symptoms of humerus fracture may be mistaken for the symptoms of other medical conditions (proximal ulna fracture, rotator cuff tear, etc.). Make sure you consult a doctor in order to determine if you have a humerus fracture and get the appropriate treatment.
The multidisciplinary team of orthopaedic experts at North Shore-LIJ Orthopaedic Institute's Trauma Services in New York treats humerus fractures as well as a broad range of conditions that affect the bones within the body.