Humeral Shaft Fractures

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The humerus is the long bone that spans between the shoulder and elbow.

It can be broken in both high- and low-energy injuries, usually as a result of a direct blow or twisting injury. It can be associated with an injury to the radial nerve resulting in a wrist drop (an inability to extend the wrist or fingers).

Key Points — Diagnosis and Management

These points will be discussed in more detail when you meet your surgeon.

  • The majority of fractures can be managed non-operatively, but there are some presentations where surgery is recommended.
  • The average time for healing is 12 weeks.
  • A proportion of these fractures will be slow to heal (>4months) or will not heal without surgical intervention.
  • The decision making to intervene surgically can be complex and will be dependent on multiple factors including fracture pattern, associated injuries, occupation and general health.

Key Points — Non-Surgical Treatment

  • You will be managed initially in a plaster splint and sling.
  • The first few weeks are uncomfortable due to acute inflammation, swelling and fracture movement. You may be more comfortable sleeping in a seated position.
  • As the swelling settles and the fracture becomes ‘sticky’ you will have the splint changed to a removable adjustable version and start exercises for your elbow and shoulder.
  • You will require regular clinical and x-ray review until the fracture heals.
  • If the fracture does not heal you may require surgical treatment. This decision is usually made at 12 weeks.
  • Until fully healed there is a risk of re-fracture.

Key Points — Surgical Treatment

  • You will have a general anaesthetic (you will be asleep).
  • You will require an overnight stay in hospital.
  • Physiotherapy exercises can start immediately following the operation.
  • We advise against heavy lifting or sport for a minimum of 6 weeks.
  • All surgical treatment carries the risk of complications, however, this has been demonstrated to be a safe, reliable and effective operation with a low complication rate.

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