The humerus bone is in the upper arm and extends from the shoulder to the elbow joint. Breaks of the humerus bone can be due to falls, motor vehicle accidents, tumors, or direct trauma to the arm. Many humerus fractures will heal without surgery. The optimal treatment depends on the location and orientation of the break, and the alignment of the broken pieces. Regardless of treatment type, complications such as shoulder or elbow stiffness or weakness, non-union (failure to heal), or nerve injury (particularly the radial nerve) may occur.
Many humerus fractures can be successfully treated non-surgically. Breaks near the top of the humerus near the shoulder (proximal humerus fractures) may be treated in a sling.
Breaks in the middle of the humerus bone (humerus shaft fractures) are oftentimes treated in a “Sarmiento brace”, which is sometimes referred to as “functional bracing”. This is a removable plastic brace/splint which wraps around the arm and has velcro straps that can be tightened to squeeze the fracture fragments together.
Breaks near the elbow (distal humerus fractures) can sometimes be treated in a removable plastic splint along the backside of the arm/elbow that holds the fracture aligned.
Some humerus fractures are treated surgically. Surgery may be indicated in fractures that enter into the elbow or shoulder joint, fractures that are not well aligned, or in patients that find bracing unacceptable. The optimal surgery technique depends on the location of the break, but typically involves either a metal plate and screws or a metal nail that goes down the inside of the humerus bone.
Dr. Schreiber is a board certified orthopedic surgeon specializing in hand, wrist, and elbow conditions. Dr. Schreiber practices at the Raleigh Orthopaedic Clinic in Raleigh, North Carolina.