OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology
Due to our constant use of the hands and the rest of our upper limbs, an injury to any of these areas will cause a significant loss of functional ability. Many fractures result from a hard fall onto an outstretched hand. The resulting transmission of force up the limb may result in a fracture of the humerus, radius, or scaphoid bones. These injuries are especially common in elderly people whose bones are weakened due to osteoporosis.
Falls onto the hand or elbow, or direct blows to the arm, can result in fractures of the humerus. Following a fall, fractures at the surgical neck, the region at which the expanded proximal end of the humerus joins with the shaft, can result in an impacted fracture, in which the distal portion of the humerus is driven into the proximal portion. Falls or blows to the arm can also produce transverse or spiral fractures of the humeral shaft.
In children, a fall onto the tip of the elbow frequently results in a distal humerus fracture. In these, the olecranon of the ulna is driven upward, resulting in a fracture across the distal humerus, above both epicondyles (supracondylar fracture), or a fracture between the epicondyles, thus separating one or both of the epicondyles from the body of the humerus (intercondylar fracture). With these injuries, the immediate concern is possible compression of the artery to the forearm due to swelling of the surrounding tissues. If compression occurs, the resulting ischemia (lack of oxygen) due to reduced blood flow can quickly produce irreparable damage to the forearm muscles. In addition, four major nerves for shoulder and upper limb muscles are closely associated with different regions of the humerus, and thus, humeral fractures may also damage these nerves.
Another frequent injury following a fall onto an outstretched hand is a Colles fracture (“col-lees”) of the distal radius. This involves a complete transverse fracture across the distal radius that drives the separated distal fragment of the radius posteriorly and superiorly. This injury results in a characteristic “dinner fork” bend of the forearm just above the wrist due to the posterior displacement of the hand. This is the most frequent forearm fracture and is a common injury in persons over the age of 50, particularly in older women with osteoporosis. It also commonly occurs following a high-speed fall onto the hand during activities such as snowboarding or skating.
The most commonly fractured carpal bone is the scaphoid, often resulting from a fall onto the hand. Deep pain at the lateral wrist may yield an initial diagnosis of a wrist sprain, but a radiograph taken several weeks after the injury, after tissue swelling has subsided, will reveal the fracture. Due to the poor blood supply to the scaphoid bone, healing will be slow and there is the danger of bone necrosis and subsequent degenerative joint disease of the wrist.
Betts, J. G., Young, K. A., Wise, J. A., Johnson, E., Poe, B., Kruse, D. H., … DeSaix, P. (n.d.). Anatomy and Physiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/anatomy-and-physiology