There's nothing quite like an injury to derail your fitness goals. And when you've been making progress with weightlifting, an arm injury, in particular, may leave you sidelined for some time. Exactly how much time it takes to recover from a fractured bone hinges on a few factors, including location and whether it's a displaced or nondisplaced fracture.
The general timetable for how long it takes to heal a broken bone is about six to eight weeks. But within that general time frame, the location and severity of the fracture determine how quickly you can get back to lifting.
Understanding Displaced vs. Nondisplaced Fractures
The least serious type of arm break, a nondisplaced fracture that is closed, means that the broken bones haven't gone out of alignment, nor have they pierced the skin. But compound fractures and/or displaced fractures may require treatment ranging from antibiotics to treat infections caused by bones piercing the skin, to surgical insertion of hardware to keep bones aligned.
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If you've had surgery to treat your broken arm, chances are hardware was inserted around the fractured areas. These types of screws, wires and plates are designed to heal broken bones by holding them together while they regrow. Often the hardware is left in place.
Some patients need to remove their hardware for medical or personal reasons. This procedure adds an extra step to the process needed to heal broken bones. If removing the hardware is required, you'll likely need to wait another six to eight weeks for the affected bone material to regrow.
Recovering From Forearm Fractures
A forearm fracture can involve either the radius and ulna, or both. If you should fall on, or receive a blow to, your forearm, it's likely you'll break both the radius and ulna. This double break potentially extends the time it will take to heal the broken bones.
If you don't need surgery, your doctor may clear you for light weightlifting within about three weeks of the injury. After surgery, however, you may have to wear a cast for up to six weeks. Based on X-rays, your doctor can tell you how soon after that you can start with light weights.
Rehabbing an Elbow Fracture
An elbow fracture can potentially involve several bones. Surgery is usually required for an elbow fracture involving the tip, or for a displaced fracture of the humerus. A nondisplaced fracture may only involve a splint.
You probably won't be able to do even light lifting six to 12 weeks after an elbow fracture. After that, you'll get guidance on how much weight to add each week. Some elbow fractures run the risk of nerve damage, resulting in a longer recovery time before you can start lifting again.
Healing Upper Arm Fractures
Your upper arm bone, the humerus bone, is crucial because it connects your shoulder and elbow joints. The upper part of the humerus, the proximal humerus, can restrict shoulder movement after a fracture. Of course, it also makes building up your nearby bicep muscles painful if attempted too soon.
But because the "head" of the humerus is denser than other arm bones, it is less likely to require surgery after a fracture. If this is the case, a brace to restrict movement may be needed for about six weeks, after which you may be given the OK to start with light weights.
Coming Back From Wrist Fractures
Your wrist is made up of the radius and ulna, plus several smaller carpal bones. Given this complex structure, the extent of a broken wrist injury varies greatly from patient to patient, as does the recovery time.
Treatment can range from a cast that comes off in a matter of weeks, to a post-surgical recovery period in which stiffness remains for up to two years. How much strain you can put on your wrists without re-injuring yourself needs to be determined by your medical team before you resume weightlifting.
- Mayo Clinic: Broken Arm
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Adult Forearm Fractures
- Dr. David Geier: Can You Lift Weights After You Break a Bone in Your Arm?
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Elbow Fractures
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Distal Radius Fractures (Broken Wrist)
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Shoulder Trauma (Fractures and Dislocations)
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeon: Distal Humerus Fractures of the Elbow
- Cleveland Clinic: Bone Fractures: Outlook / Prognosis