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View Full Version : Is it possible to set your own arm if broken?


Canotila
07-13-2009, 12:50 PM
Would someone who had training and experience setting other people's broken bones (like maybe an army medic) be able to set their own broken arm? Would it matter if the fracture was in the upper or lower arm?

I haven't been able to find any references about this, except action movies and we all know how reliable those are.

jfreedan
07-13-2009, 01:38 PM
By setting, do you mean tying something wooden to a broken leg or arm in order to keep it stable? If so, yes, it's possible to do, if you can handle the absurd pain involved in such a thing (I once broke my arm at an angle and had to straighten it for X-rays. Let me tell ya, that was arguably the most painful thing I've ever done to myself because it felt like I was breaking my bone more).

If the fracture is in your arm, it will be more difficult to do it. I think I would much rather break a leg than an arm because with my arms I can make splints / crunches, and evaluate my leg to see if the bone is sticking out of my leg. It's much harder to evaluate your arm when you only have one hand to feel around with, and it is very difficult to tie a sling around yourself with just one arm-- you have to use your neck and teeth to help you, and I doubt it would be very tight. Still, as long as your hand functions you can still use it to help assist you in making a sling, but I imagine it would be a very painful experience.

People do pass out in situations like that from the amount of pain and the whole "OMG my arm is broken" shock they experience. There are people who do quite literally pass out when they realize they are bleeding--even if it's not a serious wound-- and it is an entirely mental thing. I think everyone who gravely injures themselves has to fight for consciousness when they first realize they are injured, which is why medics are trained to keep injured people talking. The brain naturally wants to start shutting stuff down to preserve itself, so someone who has to treat their own serious injuries is going to have to be able to know they have to maintain consciousness and have the willpower to do so.

Even if you've broken a bone, you can move it if you really want to unless the muscle has been torn. Bones are not what moves your arms and legs-- it's the muscles. The majority of people won't move a broken limb because it hurts so much to move it, but if they want to they can-- although they shouldn't because they risk potentially damaging themselves more.

As for things like popping your own joints back into place without assistance, yes that is also possible. I've seen it (when I was a teenager I used to do some sparring in Tae kwon do tournaments, where someone might occasionally hurt themselves by dislocating a shoulder) although it is by no means easy. Although some movies are ridiculous, you'd be surprised how much you can actually do to treat your own injuries if you know what to do and can keep a level head-- I once performed the heimlich maneuver on myself when a dentist removing my wisdom teeth dropped the tooth down into my throat. I think the most "Hollywood moment" thing I ever learned to do in the Army related to treating injuries was using a potato chip bag to dress a punctured lung.

I wasn't a medic in the Army, but I was an infantryman with combat lifesaver training. I never had to make a sling for my own broken arm though, I'm just guessing based on what I know from personal experiences with a broken arm and the training I had about making improvised slings and splints.

Ruv Draba
07-13-2009, 04:30 PM
I've tried to reset my own broken and dislocated knees on several occasions. Knees are small bones and easily reset if you have the angles right. My pain threshold is high but it was still too hard for me on the times I've tried it. Far easier to direct someone else to do it, which is what I've done two times in three. I could reset a broken finger-bone without difficulty, but I think it would take many attempts to successfully reset a broken arm-bone.

In fiction though, heroic characters aren't the same as ordinary people. I'd call resetting your own arm without help an heroic task.

raburrell
07-13-2009, 05:58 PM
Shoulders are easy to reset if dislocated - I've lost count of the number of times I've had to do mine. (loose joints + 25 years of competitive swimming = lots of dislocations) Just feels a little numb and achy afterwards (okay, a lot). Mel Gibson is a big crybaby. Biggest problem is that you feel like a disconnected marionette in the process. Easiest way to do it is to find something to grab and pull until the sublocation corrects itself. (for me, at least)

Not sure about broken bones though - plus there'd be a risk of cutting open arteries on the fragments, nerves getting pinched, etc. Depending on how the fracture occurred, the necessary muscles to even pull things back into alignment may not even have leverage to pull against. So I guess my (unhelpful) answer is that it's not likely, but perhaps possible in certain circumstances.

eta: fwiw, you could always solve the 'free hand' issue by tying something around the wrist of the broken arm & looping it around a leverage point or something.

RJK
07-13-2009, 06:10 PM
Short answer is No. once the bones break, the muscles contract causing the broken ends to overlap. You'd have to be strong enough to pull against the contracted muscles and align the ends of the bones. You wouldn't have enough hands to perform this and you probable wouldn't be Strong enough to retract with one hand.
On the other hand, I suppose MacGyver(sp) could cook something up to do it.

Manix
07-13-2009, 06:39 PM
By setting, do you mean tying something wooden to a broken leg or arm in order to keep it stable? If so, yes, it's possible to do, if you can handle the absurd pain involved in such a thing (I once broke my arm at an angle and had to straighten it for X-rays. Let me tell ya, that was arguably the most painful thing I've ever done to myself because it felt like I was breaking my bone more).

If the fracture is in your arm, it will be more difficult to do it. I think I would much rather break a leg than an arm because with my arms I can make splints / crunches, and evaluate my leg to see if the bone is sticking out of my leg. It's much harder to evaluate your arm when you only have one hand to feel around with, and it is very difficult to tie a sling around yourself with just one arm-- you have to use your neck and teeth to help you, and I doubt it would be very tight. Still, as long as your hand functions you can still use it to help assist you in making a sling, but I imagine it would be a very painful experience.

People do pass out in situations like that from the amount of pain and the whole "OMG my arm is broken" shock they experience. There are people who do quite literally pass out when they realize they are bleeding--even if it's not a serious wound-- and it is an entirely mental thing. I think everyone who gravely injures themselves has to fight for consciousness when they first realize they are injured, which is why medics are trained to keep injured people talking. The brain naturally wants to start shutting stuff down to preserve itself, so someone who has to treat their own serious injuries is going to have to be able to know they have to maintain consciousness and have the willpower to do so.

Even if you've broken a bone, you can move it if you really want to unless the muscle has been torn. Bones are not what moves your arms and legs-- it's the muscles. The majority of people won't move a broken limb because it hurts so much to move it, but if they want to they can-- although they shouldn't because they risk potentially damaging themselves more.

As for things like popping your own joints back into place without assistance, yes that is also possible. I've seen it (when I was a teenager I used to do some sparring in Tae kwon do tournaments, where someone might occasionally hurt themselves by dislocating a shoulder) although it is by no means easy. Although some movies are ridiculous, you'd be surprised how much you can actually do to treat your own injuries if you know what to do and can keep a level head-- I once performed the heimlich maneuver on myself when a dentist removing my wisdom teeth dropped the tooth down into my throat. I think the most "Hollywood moment" thing I ever learned to do in the Army related to treating injuries was using a potato chip bag to dress a punctured lung.

I wasn't a medic in the Army, but I was an infantryman with combat lifesaver training. I never had to make a sling for my own broken arm though, I'm just guessing based on what I know from personal experiences with a broken arm and the training I had about making improvised slings and splints.

This was painful, just reading about it!

GeorgeK
07-14-2009, 01:44 AM
A dissociative would help with the pain, (like alcohol) assuming it didn't make you too stupid to do it right (big assumption), but maybe, just maybe if it were a fracture in the forearm and the victim was an epic hero, (s)he might be able to use the weight of the body to retract; slowly hang there by the broken limb until that pop and crunch is done and it looks right and then duct tape some spindles broken off a chair to the area to splint it. You'll want some padding between the spindles and the arm so there isn't pressure necrosis. About one complete wrap of a cut down parka (cut off a sleeve) or about three wraps of a cut down wool blanket would be nice.

It's possible, and in the right circumstances, with the right character, believable. It's just that the average Schmo would just fall off the chair and convert the fracture into a compound fracture.

James D. Macdonald
07-14-2009, 03:56 AM
Which bone and how broken?

I've seen a broken humerus that was treated with nothing but a sling and pain killers, and a broken radius and ulna that needed surgical repair. There are an awful lot of factors involved.

The biggest question (assuming this is fiction) is, what limitations do you want to put on your character, and for how long.

rugcat
07-14-2009, 04:05 AM
People can do amazing things when they have no other choice.

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1004805,00.html

Canotila
07-14-2009, 09:45 AM
Thank you everyone.

By set, I mean manipulate fractured long bones in the arm, or maybe a bad dislocation in the elbow so that it is straight again. An obvious break, but not a compound fracture.

The character does have someone else with her, so it does make the most sense for her to give him directions. I wasn't sure if it would be better for her to do it herself since she's done it before on others, but it sounds like he should be able to help her out. Better that than multiple tries of one handed broken arm yanking. Eww.

Thank you everyone.

Ruv, does it make a sound when the bones are adjusted? I've broken my neck and hip before, but haven't had the experience of my bones set. How does it feel afterward? Kind of numb? Sore? Excruciating pain?

GeorgeK
07-14-2009, 10:53 AM
does it make a sound when the bones are adjusted? I've broken my neck and hip before, but haven't had the experience of my bones set. How does it feel afterward? Kind of numb? Sore? Excruciating pain?

The popping crunching sound is rather sickening when you first hear it. The pain is bad, but not the worst thing I've had. All the muscles attached to the bone in question seem to want to contract and cramp up. That's (for me anyway) almost as bad as the bone pain itself. In most significant injuries days 2-5 afterward are the worst for pain.

K. Taylor
07-14-2009, 11:47 AM
I had a minor break of both bones in my left forearm when I was 3. Didn't hurt that bad when I broke it, nor when they set and cast. I remember feeling the pop of the break more than hearing a sound. I'm 32 now, so...

Interestingly enough, I know two people who just had kids with broken bones recently, and they only temporarily splinted them at the hospital, then sent them to an appointment with a specialist days later for the cast. I couldn't believe it! I had a cast on the same night after I broke my arm.