Your Healthcare Connection: Is My Child’s Arm Broken or Not?

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Dr. Hamblin, a member of Olympia Orthopaedics Associates Sports Medicine team, states that if they see a child within one week of a break they can usually heal the bone with great success.


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Dr. Hamblin, a member of Olympia Orthopaedics Associates Sports Medicine team, states that if they see a child within one week of a break they can usually heal the bone with great success.

Fall marks the return of school, playgrounds, and after-school sports practices. If you are a busy Pierce County parent, you probably also noticed the return of busy schedules and carpool coordination. And with a return to organized activities comes the inevitable falls, twists, and spills of childhood and parents are left asking, “Is that really broken or is it going to be ok?”

My daughter fell last year at school, giving me my first experience assessing a hurt wrist from a playground fall. The call came in from the school office describing the accident. I thanked the school nurse for the call and assured them that giving her an ice pack would be sufficient. That night my daughter pitifully ate dinner and finished her homework using only one arm and wincing dramatically. We carried on as usual.

I thought I did all the right things – assess mobility, apply ice, wrap it in an old ace bandage dug up from the back of a closet. However, morning came and she was still favoring her arm and in pain. No bruising or swelling was seen, so Tylenol was given along with advice to “be tough” and “hang in there.”

Fast forward a few days and we found ourselves getting an x-ray served with a side of horrible mom-guilt (dished out by me, not the doc). The diagnosis was a bad sprain, not a break this time, and we were sent home with a wrist brace and prescription to take it easy.

This scenario, I’m told, is repeated frequently. With difficult to diagnosis symptoms, many parents find themselves getting x-rays, and often a cast, several days after the initial injury. The good news? You aren’t alone. You are just like the rest of us, and in most cases, doing just the right thing according to Olympia Orthopaedic Associates Sports Medicine physician Dr. Tracy Hamblin.

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Dr. Hamblin embodies a “Life in Motion” with her love of the outdoors, biking and living a healthy lifestyle.

“It’s very common for parents to not bring in children right away,” says Dr. Hamblin. “We often can’t get a lot of diagnostic information from kids, either, as they don’t have the experience to verbalize their injury or symptoms. We rely heavily on x-rays in these cases.”

Ok. This is good news. But, what about those few days at home without treatment? Is damage being done? “Typically, if we see a child with a fracture within the first week after an injury we can work to heal it with great success,” explains Hamblin. Children’s growing bones heal and repair quickly and easily, Hamblin reassures, noting that small fractures, while hard to detect, are common and easy to treat.

Compounding the difficulty in diagnosis for parents and practitioners is swelling at the injury site along with an unwillingness to move the injured area. X-rays help, but waiting a day or two isn’t a bad idea.

Falling forward, catching yourself on your hands, are the most common cause of childhood breaks and sprains, says Hamblin. “Falling on an outstretched hand is the most common mechanism for injuries to the arm, wrist, hand, and elbow,” she shares. These falls do often result in breaks, but sprains, ligament pulls, and deep bruising can also occur, copying fracture symptoms.

Keep your child comfortable after an injury is critical and Dr. Hamblin shares a few tips for parents.

  • Apply ice to the injury immediately to reduce swelling and pain.
  • Wrap the injured area. Compression reduces swelling and aids blood flow and healing.
  • Elevate the injured area above the heart (this often looks a lot like laying on the couch watching TV for kids…they won’t complain).
  • Give Tylenol or Motrin as needed for pain.
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Wondering if an arm is broken? Stop into Oly Ortho’s clinic and be assessed by one of their doctors. Onsite x-ray and casting make it a one-stop fix for broken bones.

Sometimes, though, that “parent radar” goes off. You know what I mean; that nagging feeling that something just isn’t quite right. A visit to your primary care doctor can be a good place to start. However, families can also call the Olympia Orthopaedic Associates Sports Medicine Clinic directly. In most cases, you can be seen quickly. If in doubt, give Oly Ortho a call. Their knowledgeable staff can assist you with a phone referral if needed or schedule you directly in the clinic.

Coming directly to Oly Ortho has many upsides – on-site x-ray and MRI, casting rooms and trained technicians, a variety of splints and braces in stock for patients of all sizes. And, should things be more serious than you thought, you have quick access to an on-site orthopaedic surgeon just down the hall.

Falling down and getting hurt is part of life and part of being a kid. However, having the tools to answer the question, “Is it broken or not?” helps ease the anxiety when your child is injured. And, if you can’t answer that question yourself, you know the trained staff at Olympia Orthopaedic Associates can.

Olympia Orthopaedic Associates

3901 Capital Mall Dr. SW, Olympia