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It’s long been recognized that Auto accidents and Humeral (arm) fractures go “hand in hand” (no pun intended). A popular ad campaign during the 1950’s for Burma-Shave even spoke to this fact. Those of us, who were old enough at the time, may recall the roadside sign that wisely counseled, “Elbows held out of the window far, often go home in another car.” And although we may not have realized it at the time, that slogan was based on scientific fact and actual experience.

The humerus is the longest bone in the arm. Placed at the upper end of the arm it is a relatively thick bone with a large, smooth head at the proximal end (near the shoulder) and a number of projections at the distal (near the elbow) end. A fracture of the distal humerus is a fracture of the arm near the elbow.

A fracture of the distal humerus may be the result a direct blow onto the back of the upper arm when the elbow is held in a flexed position. This type of injury often occurs during a high-energy trauma, such as a car accident. Although fractures of the distal humerus are relatively uncommon, accounting for only 2% of fractures in adults, they can be among the most difficult fractures to treat and bring to complete recovery.

If the distal humerus is fractured the patient will experience pain, especially when attempting to flex their elbow. They may not be able to fully extend their elbow and the injured site will be swollen. Blood vessels may have ruptured, causing a purple discoloration of the skin. If the bone fragments have separated enough to distort the normal contour of the arm, there will be visible deformity.

As in the case of any fracture, seek medical care immediately. Remember, many of the tissues damaged in an arm fracture lose their elasticity after a short time and must be promptly treated in order to assure maximum healing.
Treatment consists of aligning the arm in a healing position with a splint, usually worn for at least ten days (for a non-displaced fracture). If the fracture is displaced, surgery is required for internal stabilization of the bone fragments. Complete healing may take weeks or even months, depending on the seriousness of the injury.

And at the end of the day, always remember that prevention is always preferable to treatment, as that other Burma-Shave roadside sign so aptly pointed out, “No matter the price, No matter how new, the best safety device, in your car is you.”

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