Forearm, Wrist & Elbow Casts: Short Arm & Long Arm

Instructor: Dan Washmuth

Dan has taught college Nutrition, Anatomy, Physiology, and Sports Nutrition courses and has a master's degree in Dietetics & Nutrition.

Fractures to the forearm, wrist, and elbow are fairly common and can happen to anyone. This lesson will teach you about two specific types of casts used for these injuries: short arm and long arm casts.

Watch Out for the Sprinkler Head

Greg is a 43-year-old father of two boys. A few days ago, Greg was playing a game of touch football with his boys in their back yard. During the game, Greg was running with the football and accidentally tripped on a sprinkler head, causing him to fall directly onto his outstretched right hand. When he landed, Greg heard a loud ''pop'' and felt an immediate sharp pain in his wrist.

Greg's wife then drove the family to the ER to get Greg's right wrist x-rayed. After looking at the x-rays, a doctor informed Greg that he had suffered a Colles fracture and needed to be put into a short arm cast for about four weeks.

Fractures to the wrist, forearm, and elbow are fairly common and can be caused by something as simple as tripping while playing with your kids (like Greg) or even tripping while walking. Two types of casts used for fractures to the wrist, forearm, and elbow include short arm and long arm casts.

Short Arm Casts

Short arm casts get their name because, you guessed it, they are relatively short. These types of casts usually start from the forearm, near the elbow, and extend to the base of the fingers. Short arm casts also extend between the thumb and pointer finger. When short arm casts are applied to the arm, the wrist is usually in a neutral position, meaning that the forearm, wrist, and hand are in a straight line.

Short arm casts are used for several different types of injuries, which include:

  • Colles and Smith fractures: fractures to the radius (bone on the thumb side of the forearm) close to the wrist
  • Greenstick fractures: fractures to the soft bones of the forearm in young children that occur because the soft bones bend too far and break
  • Fractures to bones in the wrist
  • Following surgery to the wrist or forearm (such as to repair damaged tendons or ligaments)

Short arm casts are mostly used for fractures to the bones in the wrist and lower forearm.
short arm cast

Long Arm Casts

Obviously, long arm casts are much longer than short arm casts. These types of casts start from about the middle of the humerus (bone in the upper arm) and extend down the arm all the way to the base of the fingers (it also extends between the thumb and the pointer finger). When long arm casts are applied, the elbow is usually bent at a 90 degree angle and the wrist is either in a neutral or slightly extended (bent backwards) position.

Long arm casts are largely used for fractures to bones higher up on the arm compared to injuries requiring short arm casts. Examples of injuries and situations that require long arm casts include:

  • Fractures and dislocations of the elbow
  • Fractures to the forearm near the elbow
  • Following surgery to the elbow (such as surgery to repair damaged tendons or ligaments)

Long arm casts are usually used for fractures to the elbow and upper forearm.
long arm casts

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