Arm Injury  

This Care Guide Covers:

  • 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

If not, see these topics
View First Aid Advice
  • for Bleeding:
  • Advice for Suspected Fracture or Dislocation of the Shoulder:
  • for Other Suspected Arm Fracture or Dislocation:

View images
First Aid - Bleeding Arm
First Aid - Bleeding Arm

First Aid - Sling - How to Put On
First Aid - Sling - How to Put On

First Aid - Splint for Wrist Injury
First Aid - Splint for Wrist Injury

X-Ray - Torus Fracture of Wrist
X-Ray - Torus Fracture of Wrist

X-Ray - Clavicle Fracture
X-Ray - Clavicle Fracture

Bruise on Forearm
Bruise on Forearm

Nursemaid's Elbow
Nursemaid's Elbow

First Aid - R.I.C.E.
First Aid - R.I.C.E.

X-Ray - Normal Clavicle
X-Ray - Normal Clavicle

When to Call Your Doctor

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 Your Doctor 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 Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If
  • You think your child needs to be seen, but not urgently
  • Very large bruise or swelling
  • Pain not better after 3 days
Call Your Doctor 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)
Causes & Health Information

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.

  1. What You Should Know:
    • During sports, muscles and bones get bruised.
    • Muscles get stretched.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Rest:
    • Rest the injured arm as much as possible for 48 hours.
  6. 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.
  7. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Pain becomes severe
    • Pain is not better after 3 days
    • Pain lasts more than 2 weeks
    • Your child becomes worse

And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

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

Last Reviewed: 9/1/2012

Last Revised: 1/14/2013

Content Set: Child Symptom Checker

Copyright 1994-2012 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.