Arm Injury


  • Injuries to the arm (shoulder to fingers)
  • Injuries to a bone, muscle, joint or ligament
  • Muscle pain caused by too much exercise (overuse) is covered in Arm Pain

Types of Arm Injuries

  • Fractures are broken bones. A broken collarbone is the most common broken bone in children. It's easy to notice because the collar bone is tender to touch. Also, the child cannot raise the arm upward.
  • Dislocations happen when a bone is pulled out of a joint. A dislocated elbow is the most common type of this injury in kids. It's caused by an adult quickly pulling or lifting a child by the arm. Mainly seen in 1 to 4 year olds. It's also easy to spot. The child will hold his arm as if it were in a sling. He will keep the elbow bent and the palm of the hand down.
  • Sprains - stretches and tears of ligaments
  • Strains - stretches and tears of muscles (such as a pulled muscle)
  • Muscle overuse from hard work or sports (such as a sore shoulder)
  • Muscle bruise from a direct blow
  • Bone bruise from a direct blow

Pain Scale

  • Mild: Your child feels pain and tells you about it. But, the pain does not keep your child from any normal activities. School, play and sleep are not changed.
  • Moderate: The pain keeps your child from doing some normal activities. It may wake him or her up from sleep.
  • Severe: The pain is very bad. It keeps your child from doing all normal activities.

FIRST AID for Bleeding:

  • Put a gauze pad or clean cloth on top of the wound.
  • Press down firmly on the place that is bleeding.
  • This is called direct pressure. It is the best way to stop bleeding.
  • Keep using pressure until the bleeding stops.
  • If bleeding does not stop, press on a slightly different spot.

FIRST AID Advice for Suspected Fracture or Dislocation of the Shoulder:

  • Use a sling to support the arm. Make the sling with a triangular piece of cloth.
  • Or, at the very least, the child can support the injured arm with the other hand or a pillow.

FIRST AID for Other Suspected Arm Fracture or Dislocation:

  • Put the arm, hand, or wrist on a hard splint so it does not move. You can use a small board, magazine folded in half, or folded up newspaper.
  • Tie a few cloth strips around arm or joint to keep the splint from moving.
  • A second choice is to use a soft splint. Wrap the arm or joint in a soft splint so it does not move. You can use a pillow, a rolled-up blanket, or a towel. Use tape to keep this splint in place.
  • Put your child's injured arm in a sling. If you do not have a sling, have your child support the injured arm with his other hand.

When to Call Us for Arm Injury

Call 911 Now (your child may need an ambulance) If

  • Serious injury with many broken bones
  • Major bleeding that can't be stopped (See FIRST AID)
  • Bone is sticking through the skin
  • You think your child has a life-threatening emergency

Call Us Now (night or day) If

  • You think your child has a serious injury
  • Looks like a broken bone
  • Looks like a dislocated joint
  • Skin is split open or gaping and may need stitches
  • Age under 1 year old
  • Can't move the shoulder, elbow or wrist normally
  • Can't open and close the hand normally
  • Pain is SEVERE and not improved 2 hours after taking pain medicine
  • You think your child needs to be seen urgently

Call Us During Weekday Office Hours If

  • You have other questions or concerns
  • Injury limits sports or school work
  • No tetanus shot in over 5 years for DIRTY cuts
  • No tetanus shot in over 10 years for CLEAN cuts
  • Pain lasts over 2 weeks

Parent Care at Home If

  • Bruised muscle or bone from direct blow
  • Pain in muscle (from minor pulled muscle)
  • Pain around joint (from minor stretched ligament)


What You Should Know:
  • During sports, muscles and bones get bruised.
  • Muscles get stretched.
  • Here is some care advice that should help.
Pain Medicine:
  • To help with the pain, give acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen.
  • Ibuprofen works well for this type of pain.
  • Use as needed. See Dose Table.
Cold Pack:
  • For pain or swelling, use a cold pack. You can also use ice wrapped in a wet cloth.
  • Put it on the sore muscles for 20 minutes.
  • Repeat 4 times on the first day, then as needed.
  • Reason: Helps the pain and helps stop any bleeding.
  • Caution: Avoid frostbite.
Heat Pack:
  • If pain lasts over 2 days, put heat on the sore muscle.
  • Use a heat pack, heating pad or warm wet washcloth.
  • Do this for 10 minutes, then as needed.
  • Caution: Avoid burns.
  • Rest the injured arm as much as possible for 48 hours.
What to Expect:
  • Pain and swelling most often peak on day 2 or 3.
  • Swelling should be gone by 7 days.
  • Pain may take 2 weeks to fully go away.
Call Your Doctor If:
  • Pain becomes severe
  • Pain is not better after 3 days
  • Pain lasts more than 2 weeks
  • Your child becomes worse
X-Ray - Clavicle Fracture

Bruise on Forearm

First Aid - Bleeding Arm

Nursemaid's Elbow

First Aid - R.I.C.E.

First Aid - Sling - How to Put On

First Aid - Splint for Wrist Injury

X-Ray - Torus Fracture of Wrist

X-Ray - Normal Clavicle

And remember, contact us if your child develops any of the "Call Us" symptoms.

Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

Copyright 1994-2013 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.