When A Musket Ball Breaks Your Arm

May 28, 2018

It’s not fun to get hurt, or more specifically, fracture a bone. A fracture can never happen at an opportune time, because we don’t typically schedule time in our day to get injured. It then means going to the doctor to get an X-ray to confirm that it is in fact broken. Then, you must rearrange your life for the next 4-8 weeks while you limit the use of the arm to allow the bone to heal, and allow up to one year to get full healing and function back–all while attending more medical appointments. It can happen to any one of us, even Rutherford B. Hayes, our 19th president, who was struck by a musket ball that shattered the humerus of his left arm (and with the state of medicine and no such thing as PT in the 1870’s, who knows what his recovery was like).

The humerus, or upper arm bone, runs from the shoulder joint to the elbow joint and can be fractured at either end. Symptoms may include pain; swelling; bruising; severely limited movement of the shoulder; numbness and/or tingling in the arm, forearm, or hand; or an unusual appearance of the upper arm. Depending on the where the fracture is, surgery may be needed. Regardless, PT treatment is essential to safely and effectively restore use of your shoulder to return to normal activity.

In PT, we: use modalities for pain relief, stretch your arm to improve your range of motion, apply soft tissue massage and joint mobilization, add in strengthening exercises, and incorporate activity/sport specific exercises to return you to your prior level of function.

Though life happens, and trauma can occur to anyone, the best treatment is prevention. Eating calcium-rich foods and taking supplements can help decrease the risk of a fracture. Fall hazards around the home should be removed, especially if you are older and/or have balance problems, as our balance decreases over the age of 40. Lastly, if you are athletic, use proper protective equipment to prevent injury in the first place. And, try to avoid those musket balls…

By Effie Koustas, MPT

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