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Broken arm or wrist

Get medical advice as soon as possible if you think you have broken your arm or wrist. Any possible breaks need to be treated as soon as possible.

Check if you have a broken arm or wrist

You may have broken your arm or wrist if you've injured it and it suddenly became:

  • painful
  • swollen
  • bruised
  • difficult to move

It may also change colour, change shape or feel numb.

It can be hard to tell if a wrist is broken, dislocated or badly sprained. You'll probably need an X-ray.

Urgent advice: Get help from NHS 111 if:

You've injured your arm or wrist and:

  • it's very painful, you cannot use it due to the pain, or the pain is getting worse
  • there's a large amount of swelling or bruising, or the swelling or bruising is getting worse
  • it feels very stiff or is difficult to move
  • you also have a very high temperature or feel hot and shivery – this could be an infection

You can call 111 or get help from 111 online.

You could also go to your nearest urgent treatment centre.

Immediate action required: Go to A&E or call 999 if:

You've injured your arm or wrist and:

  • the affected arm or wrist is numb, is tingling or has pins and needles
  • you have a bad cut that is bleeding heavily
  • a bone is sticking out of your skin
  • your arm or wrist has changed shape or is at an odd angle

Things to do while you're waiting to see a doctor

If you think you've broken your arm or wrist, there are things you can do while you wait to see a doctor.

Do

  • use a towel as a sling to support the affected arm

  • gently hold an ice pack (or a bag of frozen peas) wrapped in a tea towel to the injured area for up to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours

  • stop any bleeding by applying pressure to the wound with a clean pad or dressing if possible

  • remove any jewellery such as rings or watches – your fingers, wrist or hand could swell up

  • use painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen gel (or ibuprofen tablets if needed)

Don’t

  • do not eat or drink anything in case you need surgery to fix the bone when you get to hospital

  • do not try to use the affected arm or wrist

Treatment for a broken arm or wrist

When you get to hospital the affected arm will be placed in a splint to support it and stop any broken bones from moving out of position. You will also be given painkilling medicines for the pain.

An X-ray is then used to see if there is a break and how bad that break is.

A plaster cast can be used to keep your arm in place until it heals. Sometimes this may be done a few days later to allow any swelling to go down first.

You may be given a sling to support your arm.

A doctor may try to fit the broken bones back into place with their hands before applying a splint or cast. You'll be given medicine before this happens so you will not feel any pain.

If you had a very bad break, surgery may be carried out to fix broken bones back into place.

Before leaving hospital, you'll be given painkillers to take home and advice on how to look after your cast.

You'll be asked to attend follow-up appointments to check how your arm or wrist is healing.

Recovering from a broken arm or wrist

It usually takes around 6 to 8 weeks to recover from a broken arm or wrist. It can take longer if your arm or wrist was severely damaged.

You'll need to wear your plaster cast until the broken bone heals. The skin under the cast may be itchy for a few days but this should pass.

The hospital will give you an advice sheet on exercises you should do every day to help speed up your recovery.

Your arm or wrist may be stiff and weak after the cast is removed. A physiotherapist can help with these problems, although sometimes they can last several months or more.

Things you can do to help during recovery

Do

  • try to keep your hand raised above your elbow whenever possible (use a pillow at night to do this)

  • follow any exercise advice you have been given

  • use the painkillers you have been given to ease pain

Don’t

  • do not get your cast wet – waterproof cast covers are available from pharmacies

  • do not use anything to scratch under the cast as this could lead to an infection

  • do not drive or try to lift heavy items until you have been told it's safe to do so

Urgent advice: Get help from NHS 111 if:

  • the pain in your arm or wrist gets worse
  • your temperature is very high or you feel hot and shivery
  • your cast breaks, or the cast feels too tight or too loose
  • your fingers, wrist and arm start to feel numb
  • your fingers, wrist and arm look swollen or turn blue or white
  • there's a bad smell or discharge of liquid from under your cast

You can call 111 or get help from 111 online.

Page last reviewed: 26 May 2023
Next review due: 26 May 2026