So your kid broke their arm

Posted by & filed under Emergency Care, Treatment.

No matter how closely you watch them or prepare for the worst, it’s a widely known fact that kids play hard. The harder kids play the harder they fall and unfortunately the occasional outcome is a broken bone. This marginal right of passage can be stressful and scary for both the child involved and parents. Here are some tips to help identify a break, know what to do next depending on the severity of the break, and how to soothe a child in the midst of this seemingly traumatic injury.

Most childhood fractures occur in the arm (wrist, forearm, above the elbow) and collarbone because when kids fall, or anyone really, it’s a natural instinct to throw our hands out in an attempt to stop the fall. 

How to tell if a bone is broken

Classic signs of a break are pain, swelling and deformity. Here are some other revelatory signs that your kid’s has a fracture.

  • A snap or grinding noise was heard during the injury – eesh!
  • Bruising, swelling, or acute tenderness around the injury
  • Painful to move, touch, or apply pressure
  • If deformity is present – or if the bone is poking through the skin, obviously

So what do I do?

Well, first of all you should seek medical care immediately if you suspect a fracture.

Keep the child immobile if you suspect any head or next injury or if the bone has broken through the skin. If the bone is protruding apply constant pressure with a towel or gauze pad keep the child lying down until help arrives.

If the injury isn’t that serious follow these steps:

  • Remove clothing surrounding the injury. Don’t force anything though, just use scissors to cut clothing away to prevent causing any addition discomfort
  • Apply an ice pack or cold compress wrapped in cloth
  • Create a provisional splint by: keeping the injured limb in the position you find it, placing a firm surface (rolled up newspaper, board) under the injured limb to support, wrap it all with soft padding and secure everything with first-aid tape.
  • Head to the hospital or your nearest emergency care clinic

Depending on the severity and type break the child will be fitted with a cast or splint. If the break is unable to be set (or have the bones aligned to heal) surgery and/or pins may be required in order for the bones to align, heal properly and offer full range of movement in the future.

After being sent home to heal children will experience pain and discomfort for the next few days. The doctor may recommend ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain, however, if the pain doesn’t taper and the child seems to still be in a lot of pain, call the doctor.

Preventing fractures isn’t an exact science and are often chalked up to “just part of childhood.” However, you can lower their risk. Be sure your child is getting enough calcium in order to decrease the risk of developing osteoporosis. Also, it’s recommended that kids get involved in regular physical exercise and weight-bearing activities to strengthen bones. It should go without saying but always take proper safety precautions in sports and activities – helmets and safety gear should never be ignored.

While breaking a bone can be a frightening experience, remember that it’s a very common injury to children, easily treatable, to stay calm knowing that it will heal quickly (average 6 weeks).