Treating a Broken Ulna
A broken ulna is a bone fracture that occurs in the forearm. The forearm is the part of the arm that runs from the elbow to the hand. It is made up of two separate bones which are the radius and the ulna. The ulna is the smaller of the two bones, making it easier to fracture. If someone suffers a blow to the forearm in an auto accident or following a slip and fall injury, he or she might suffer a fracture of the ulna. This diagnosis is typically confirmed using x-rays.
An Overview: Principles of Treating a Broken Arm
When someone suffers a bone fracture, there is one rule that has to be followed: The broken pieces of the bone need to be lined up correctly and immobilized so that they can heal properly and thoroughly.
In the case of the forearm, the radius and the ulna rely on each other for support. One cannot properly support the arm without the help of the other. Because of this, both need to be stabilized. If the bones are not lined up during the healing process, this could lead to long-term wrist problems. These issues could include chronic pain, mobility issues, and even arthritis.
The Immediate Treatment of a Broken Ulna
The first steps in the treatment process are pain control and immobilization. The doctor will probably provide some Tylenol or Motrin to reduce the swelling and inflammation. Then, the doctor might also offer a narcotic medication, such as morphine, to try and further reduce the pain.
To immobilize the arm, the physician may apply a splint, such as a cast. The job of the splint is to prevent the arm from moving. If the arm moves while the bone is broken, the fragments of the bone may shift out of place. It is essential that the splint not be applied too tightly. If the arm swells and the splint is too tight, compartment syndrome could develop. This is a medical emergency because if it is not treated quickly, it could lead to amputation of the forearm.
Watch YouTube Video: Radius and Ulnar Shaft Fracture Complications. This animated video explains the complications of radius and ulnar shaft fractures.
Nonsurgical Treatment Options
In some cases, the broken ulna might not be out of place. In this case, the doctor will apply a cast once the swelling has reduced. This cast will keep the forearm immobilized, ensuring that the ulna does not shift out of place during the treatment process. The physician might ask the patient to return to the clinic regularly for repeat x-rays. These x-rays are used to ensure that the broken ulna is healing correctly. Should the fracture change position, surgery might be needed to put the bones back in place. If there aren’t any complications, the bone should heal in about six weeks. Then, the cast can come off.
Surgery Might Be Needed
There are a few common reasons that surgery might be needed following a fracture of the ulna. They are:
- The bone fragments are out place, and surgery is required to put them back together.
- Fragments of the ulna have punctured the surface of the skin, termed an open fracture. In this fracture, the fragments need to be put back into the arm, and the wounds need to be closed.
- There are other structures in the arm, such as blood vessels and nerves, that have been damaged. These critical structures need to be repaired.
Surgery cannot be done until the swelling has gone down. This might take a few days. Once the swelling is gone, the doctor might use rods, plates, or screws to hold the bone fragments in the correct alignment. While the fractures will take about six weeks to heal, this surgical equipment usually stays in place for life.
Sacramento Personal Injury Lawyer
I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento Personal Injury Lawyer. A broken ulna can be challenging to treat and might even require surgery. If you or someone you care about has sustained a fracture of the ulna, call me at (800) 404-5400 or (916) 921-6400 for my free, friendly legal guidance and advice.
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