Broken Forearm | Diagnosis & Treatments

How are broken forearms in children diagnosed?

To diagnose broken forearms in children, the doctor will carefully examine the injured area for tenderness, redness, and swelling.

One or more of the following imaging techniques may also be used to get detailed pictures of the broken bone and to check for damage to muscles or blood vessels.


An x-ray of the arm is the main tool used for diagnosing a broken bone. This painless test uses small amounts of radiation to produce images of bone onto film. After the doctor puts the pieces of the broken bone in the right position, an x-ray can also help determine whether the bones in the arm are healing in the proper position.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

An MRI is a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radio frequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body. These types of tests are more sensitive than x-rays and can pick up smaller fractures before they get worse.

Computed tomography scan (CT, CAT scan)

A diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body.

How are broken forearms in children treated?

Treatment for a broken forearm depends on the severity of the injury. The goal of treatment is to put pieces of the bone back in place and keep the pieces in the correct position while the bone heals.

Surgical options

Surgery may be needed to put broken bones back into place. A surgeon may insert metal rods or pins located inside the bone (internal fixation) or outside the body (external fixation) to hold bone fragments in place to allow alignment and healing. This is done under general anesthesia.

Treatment without surgery

  • Traction corrects broken or dislocated bones by using a gentle and steady pulling motion in a specific direction to stretch muscles and tendons around the broken bone. This allows the bone ends to align and heal, and in some cases, it reduces painful muscle spasms.
  • Closed reduction is a nonsurgical procedure used to reduce and set the fracture. Using an anesthetic (typically given through an IV in the arm), the doctor realigns the bone fragments from outside the body and holds it in place with a cast or splint.

Casts and splints

Splints and casts immobilize the injured bone(s) to promote healing and reduce pain and swelling. They are sometimes put on after surgical procedures to ensure that the bone is protected and in the proper alignment as it begins to heal.

  • Splints are used for minor breaks. Splints support the broken bone on one side and immobilize the injured area to promote bone alignment and healing. Splints are often used in emergency situations to hold a joint in a steady position during transportation to a medical facility.
  • Casts are stronger than splints and provide more protection to the injured area. They hold a broken bone in place while it heals by immobilizing the area above and below the joint. For example, a child with a forearm fracture will have a long arm cast to immobilize the wrist and elbow joints.

Some common types of casting for broken forearms include:

  • short arm cast
    • applied below the elbow to the hand
    • used after forearm or wrist fractures; also used to hold the forearm or wrist muscles and tendons in place after surgery
  • long arm cast
    • applied from the upper arm to the hand
    • used after upper arm, elbow or forearm fractures; also used to hold the arm or elbow muscles and tendons in place after surgery
  • arm cylinder cast
    • applied from the upper arm to the wrist
    • holds the elbow muscles and tendons in place after a dislocation or surgery