Last Updated: November 5, 2020 References
This article was co-authored by Jonathan Frank, MD. Dr. Jonathan Frank is an Orthopedic Surgeon based in Beverly Hills, California, specializing in sports medicine and joint preservation. Dr. Frank’s practice focuses on minimally invasive, arthroscopic surgery of the knee, shoulder, hip, and elbow. Dr. Frank holds an MD from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine. He completed an orthopedic residency at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and a fellowship in Orthopedic Sports Medicine and Hip Preservation at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado. He is a staff team physician for the US Ski and Snowboard Team. Dr. Frank is currently a scientific reviewer for top peer-reviewed scientific journals, and his research has been presented at regional, national, and international orthopedic conferences, winning several awards including the prestigious Mark Coventry and William A Grana awards.
There are 12 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.
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Broken arms are a common injury that can happen to both the young and the old. A break involves one of the three bones that make up the arm: either the humerus, ulna, or radius.  X Trustworthy Source Mayo Clinic Educational website from one of the world’s leading hospitals Go to source In order to properly manage a broken arm, you need to deal with the break immediately, seek medical attention, and give your arm proper time and treatment to fully heal.  X Expert Source
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A broken arm is a painful and unfortunate event in a patient’s life. But after that initial pain subsides, one can often be left wondering will I ever get back to normal? Will my movement be affected by the broken arm? Will I be able to work? Can I go back to playing sport? Of course, the answers to these questions is incredibly variable depending on what you have broken and how badly it has been broken.
What can you break in the arm?
A number of structures make up an “arm” and can this be broken. The arm is defined as everything between the wrist and the shoulder and includes a number of bony structures. These are:
- The humerus bone is attached into your shoulder socket and goes all the way down to your elbow.
- The forearm goes from the wrist to the elbow and has two bones, the radius, and the ulna. The radius is the bone you can feel on the side of your thumb, whilst the ulnar is underneath it and on the side of your little finger.
All of these structures can of course break, and break in different ways and at different points. Each individual fracture has its own specific management based on years of research.
How do you manage a broken arm?
Whilst all break will be dealt with differently, there are some general principles that get people back to normal after a broken arm. Firstly, the break needs to heal. If the two ends of the broken bone line up perfectly and look like they will heal well then usually a sling will suffice to take the weight off the patient’s arm and ensure they are pain-free. However, in some breaks, the two bones are not properly lined up and need to be “reduced”. This can be done by pulling the bones back into position (don’t worry – anesthetic is provided) and putting a cast or splint on them to keep them in position. In some cases, surgery may be needed to fix the fracture into position.
Once this initial management has been completed the patient usually has a period of immobility where they cannot move the affected arm before rehabilitation starts. The rehab process will be specific to the break but usually involves devices to support the arm and physiotherapy to rehabilitate movement of the joints around the break. The specific exercises practiced in the physiotherapy will be determined by where the bone is broken.
If you or somebody you know has been affected by a broken arm, they may need specialist help to adequately rehabilitate mobility in their broken arm. To get specialist advice and treatment for this get in contact with a clinic providing orthopedic and physiotherapy services in the United States. It seems trivial but ensuring proper rehabilitation is often the most important part of the management of a broken arm and when done properly can allow the individual to return to work sooner with less pain and more mobility.
Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on March 4, 2021.
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WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
An arm fracture is a crack or break in one or more of the bones in your arm.
Return to the emergency department if:
- The pain in your injured arm does not get better or gets worse, even after you rest and take medicine.
- Your injured arm, hand, or fingers feel numb.
- Your arm is swollen, red, and feels warm.
- Your skin over the fracture is swollen, cold, or pale.
- You cannot move your arm, hand, or fingers.
Call your doctor if:
- You have a fever.
- Your brace or splint becomes wet, damaged, or comes off.
- You have questions or concerns about your injury, treatment, or care.
You may need any of the following:
- NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor’s order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
- Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor’s order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly. Do not use more than 4 grams (4,000 milligrams) total of acetaminophen in one day.
- Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask your healthcare provider how to take this medicine safely. Some prescription pain medicines contain acetaminophen. Do not take other medicines that contain acetaminophen without talking to your healthcare provider. Too much acetaminophen may cause liver damage. Prescription pain medicine may cause constipation. Ask your healthcare provider how to prevent or treat constipation.
- Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him or her if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.
- Elevate your arm above the level of your heart as often as you can. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop your arm on pillows or blankets to keep it elevated comfortably.
- Apply ice on your arm for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.
- Rest your arm as much as possible. Ask your healthcare provider when you can put pressure or weight on your arm. Also ask when you can return to sports or exercise.
Care for your cast or splint:
Ask your healthcare provider when it is okay to bathe. Do not get your cast or splint wet. Before you take a bath or shower, cover your cast or splint with a plastic bag. Tape the bag to your skin to help keep water out. Hold your arm away from the water in case the bag has a hole or tear.
- Check the skin around your cast or splint each day for any redness or open skin.
- Do not use a sharp or pointed object to scratch your skin under the cast or splint.
A physical therapist teaches you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain.
Follow up with your doctor within 1 week:
You may need to see a bone specialist within 3 to 4 days if you need surgery or more treatment. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.
The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.
Learn more about Arm Fracture in Adults (Aftercare Instructions)
IBM Watson Micromedex
- Arm Fracture in Adults
- Arm Fracture in Children
- Avulsion Fracture
- Buckle Fracture
- Wrist Fracture in Adults
- Wrist Fracture in Children
Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.
Friday, January 20, 2012
Daily Living – Coping with a Broken Right Arm
I wrote a blog post back in June 2010 on this topic. This week I met a friend – Anne Sowden from Here’s Looking at You – who has suffered a similar incapacitation. Her suggestions are below and my original Blog Post follows hers.
General Comments from both of us:
Don’t go to hospital/fracture clinic appointments alone. Take a relative or good friend who can ask the right questions and intervene on your behalf, if necessary. Even the most intelligent of us need that kind of help when we’ve suffered a major injury. This advice also applies for medical issues.
Comments from Anne:
I broke my right wrist while on a secret mission and had a plaster and fiberglass cast on my arm from my knuckles over my elbow for four weeks. Like Heather, I learned a number of coping mechanisms that I’d like to share:
If you don’t want to get an electric toothbrush, get an “End Tuft” brush. The small bristles on the end make it easier to brush, especially those hard to reach places. You also don’t end up with as much toothpaste all over the place.
Flossing is impossible with one hand, so get yourself an Access Flosser. It’s like a toothbrush with a U shaped head containing floss.. All you have to do is work the floss between your teeth. And, it’s easy to replace the floss with one hand. In addition or as an alternative, chew gum.
With a huge cast over my elbow, I discovered baths were easier than showers. I didn’t have to worry about keeping my balance and a long soak in bubble bath before bed was relaxing.
Fingernails grow a lot in four weeks so I became a “regular” at my local nail bar—a habit that still continues even though my cast is off.
What to wear:
I totally agree with Heather about shoes. High heels are impossible with a cast. My go to shoes were rubber soled flats with Velcro on the straps.
Long sleeves were a challenge but fortunately winter weather was delayed and I was able to go outside wearing one of my husband’s sweaters. Yes, it was big and bulky but I’m told the colour looked amazing on me! The trick to putting on a sweater or jacket is to get the sleeve over your cast first. However, consider cardigans rather than pullovers and definitely sit while dressing.
I was lucky that I had someone to cook and wash dishes. However, we learned that I made less of a mess while eating if my food was served in a bowl or deep sided pasta dish, except for soup. That was definitely best eaten from a mug.
While I could stab food with a fork, my favourite and most effective utensil was a spoon.
Anne Sowden, AICI CIP
Here’s Looking at You
Original Post from Heather:
Back in June 2010, I was having wild and passionate sex and swinging from a chandelier. No one told me you had to reinforce the chandelier first . and the next thing I knew, I had a displaced fracture of my right humerus. If you prefer version 2, I was out walking and tripped, lost my balance and fell off the sidewalk and broke my upper right arm – so that it was in two pieces.
This started the process of not having any use of my right arm for almost three months. I was lucky and didn’t need surgery, for all but 3 weeks got to wear a plastic (Sarmiento) cast as opposed to an “old fashioned” plaster cast. However, my arm was held to my side with a strap and held in place with a sling that I was not allowed to remove (24 hours a day).
There were loads of coping mechanisms that I learned – and here some of them are. Please feel to pass them on to anyone you know who might find them useful.
• Did you ever try to brush your teeth with your left hand? It was humorous. An electric toothbrush came to the rescue!
• With only one functioning arm – I discovered the easiest way to put on powder was with a powder puff.
• To wash myself, I switched to liquid soap and a face cloth from the bar soap I had used before. (I didn’t drop the soap and I didn’t have to chase the bar soap.)
• For the first three weeks, I needed to wear my top over the plaster cast – off to Value Village to buy some extra large men’s shirts with buttons up the front. Once the cast was changed, I could put my arm through the sleeves, but still needed a men’s shirt to fit over the cast – and the buttons as I couldn’t put anything over my head. Fortunately it was summer and short sleeves were fine – and I didn’t need a sweater or jacket.
• Pants – I couldn’t do up the zippers on my pants – so I needed pants with elastic waists. I went one step further and bought scrub pants as they have loads of pockets and therefore I didn’t need to carry a purse.
• Shoes – I converted to rubber soled loafers. My balance was off, so the flat shoes were essential and the loafers were easier to put on one armed.
Men – you can skip the next point:
• As for bras – if you can get away braless or with a sports bra – that would be my recommendation. You can also try bras that fasten in the front. I went with a size larger and assistance to put them on.
• I converted to preparing foods that only required heating with a microwave and that didn’t require much cutting. I also purchased shelf liner to put under my plate to prevent it from sliding around. I used a pizza cutter instead of a knife as I could do it one armed.
• My left arm was not strong enough to pour from containers larger than one litre – so I had someone pour liquid into single serving containers.
• When it came to washing dishes – I bought a smaller container of cleaner and used a protector in the bottom of the sink so that I could wash one handed.
Now that it’s almost a year post injury and I’m able to do almost everything I could do before the accident, my main suggestion to everyone is to do all of the exercises recommended and find a good physiotherapist. I’ve spoken to a number of people who had much less serious injuries and lost a lot more mobility than I did. So – persevere with your exercises. If you have any additional suggestions – please let me know and I’ll pass them on.
(Household Management 101)
I Wish I’d Had This Sign!
Confession – I haven’t posted in a while because last week I broke my elbow when I fell on the ice in my driveway!
I wasn’t the least bit graceful, but I did manage to fall spectacularly hard and break my elbow so badly I needed surgery the next morning to repair it. (It would have been same day surgery, but the line from all the poor other souls that had fallen on the ice that day was too long.)
So here I am, sitting here typing one-handed, and just now a week later coming out of my drug and pain induced haze, and I realize I could use some help from you guys!
Fortunately, my parents were able to come up the day of the surgery and stick around the next day to shuttle the kids around while my hubby took care of me, getting the prescriptions, taking me too and from surgery, etc.
They also helped by giving hubby time to go to the grocery, and they did laundry and cleaned up so things wouldn’t get too bad while I was recovering.
OK — here’s the thing — I can’t lift anything heavier than a pencil with my broken arm (left arm, thank God! since I’m right handed) for SIX weeks.
And even after that it will be a while until this is completely healed. So what do I do in the mean time with 3 kids, aged 8, 5 and 2, a husband, a home, and a full time job?
Looking at the positives — I am healing, my family is wonderful and supportive, my job is letting me telecommute for a while, and the house hasn’t gone completely to pot — yet!
How do I keep everything as positive as possible? Any suggestions for one-armed laundry, dishes, etc.?
Please comment below if you have any suggestions!
Sharing is caring!
Well, that’s a more dramatic title than usual. Isn’t it? Yep we had a broken arm in the family over the summer. I suppose I’ve done well to get to 44 and be a Mum for 15 years without a broken bone but Tara has set a precedent for us.
As far as broken bones go, its was not a bad break. A small fracture near to her elbow but painful nonetheless. All as a result of falling about 1.5 feet onto rubber matting at the garden centre. She was really quite unlucky really but that’s the way it goes.
She didn’t have a cast which we will be forever thankful for. Just 8 or so hours earlier, we had booked a last minute holiday for the 4 of us (Millie isn’t coming). This meant Tara could still cool off in the many pools although she wasn’t too chuffed to miss out on the water slides.
So what have we learnt about how to cope with a broken arm?
People are really kind
You can’t go past many people with a child in a sling without people saying ‘Aah’. One man in a taxi rank wished her well which put a smile on her otherwise sad little face.
I have to admit it was tempting to just feed her sandwiches and finger food that she can easily pick up with her left hand (Yes, of course, she is righthanded!) This wouldn’t be that practical or tasty for the next 6 weeks though. The first place Tara wanted to eat at was Wagamama – Erm, rice/noodles with your left hand? Well, we gave it a go and discovered children’s chopsticks are a magic solution! The staff were so impressed that they gave us a huge handful as we were leaving to see us through the next 6 weeks. See? Back to people being so kind.
We’ve also found that sports cups are a godsend – you soon learn after mopping up your second spilt juice in 10 minutes that beakers may not be that easy. If eating out, straws are great too and so much easier to control.
Now this was a biggie and we learnt a lot each day. Button up shirts and blouses are the most practical for an arm that is in a sling and can’t be bent. We only own one though and to be honest, there’s not many of them in the shops. Strappy tops with wide necklines are the next easiest.
If you can manage without PJ’s then do it but we also used her big sister’s vest top which went on fairly easily. We also learnt to time any dressing activity to coincide with 20 minutes after pain relief.
We were advised to take off her sling at night. The first night was awful as Tara kept waking up, whimpering but at least she kept still. The second night was a whole new level of hideousness though – Tara found herself waking up with her arm behind her head. Its a brave parent that gets your 6yo to move that arm down by their side. We propped the arm up with a spare pillow but it kept on wandering. Be prepared for sleep deprivation!
Starting to feel better
The first couple of days are rough. If I could re-live those first 2 days (hope I never do) I would cancel any plans and really take it easy. We were very lucky that we didn’t have too much planned but just getting up and down stairs took forever due to her pain, never mind leaving the house.
It was really the Hokey Cokes of Paracetamol & Ibruprofen that got us through those early days. Don’t be tempted to try to last too long in between doses, especially if your child starts moving around more. It will hurt.
Will I know when my child has broken a bone?
‘They’ say you will just know when you have broken a bone or your child has. Well, it wasn’t quite so obvious for us. Tara fell from a small piece of play equipment at a local garden centre. It was only about 1.5 feet high and she fell onto soft rubber matting. It was plainly the angle that she fell on her arm that resulted in a small bone being fractured. There was a lady right next to her who said there was a horrible cracking sound, so I suspect the lady knew before any of us.
Its fair to say Tara was miserable when she had first hurt herself but she wasn’t hysterical. She could move the arm – We even took her hoodie off so we could have a better look. She calmed down but couldn’t really take her mind off her arm – even when her Nanna used her amazing distraction techniques. After about 15 minutes of her still wincing, we popped her into the car and made our way home. At this point, we were still debating if we needed a trip to A&E. She really didn’t want to go as we had a family meal booked for my birthday, which happened to be the same day.
We managed to persuade Tara that she needed to be looked at though. At this point, we were still convinced we would be told it was bruised. Even the medical staff didn’t think it would be broken (apart from one nurse who said the way she was holding herself was making her think it was). The doctor on shift was fairly surprised but broken it was.
What activities can my child do with a broken arm?
We were amazed how much Tara achieved. Within the first week, she was in the pool (wearing the spare sling that the hospital gave us in the water). At first, she just paddled around but within a couple of days she was swimming one armed. A day later she was heaving herself up onto inflatables.
End of Week 2, the hospital advised to take the sling off. They like to promote movement so the arm doesn’t get stiff and lose strength. This was a scary moment for little T but within 48 hours, she was definitely better off for having no sling.
By the end of week 3, Tara was writing with the right arm. We didn’t particularly encourage this but if she wanted to do it and felt up to it, who could stop her?
By week 4, Tara had no sign of injury. She is allowed back to PE at school including dance. Swimming properly is actively encouraged as it helps strengthen then arm without pressure on it.
What to avoid long term?
The nurses and doctors at fracture clinic told us that if they could, they would ban trampolines and riding horses as the majority of their patients are from this type of activity. I will admit it has made me more cautious about trampolines (We aren’t horsey types so that hasn’t been an issue). Tara gets invited to a lot of trampolining parties – So far I’ve been able to decline as she has had other commitments but I have provisionally said yes for one in December. I know its 4 months after her injury but it does make you think.
Posted By: Dr. C. August 20, 2019
People who play sports are frequently prone to accidents – sometimes even serious ones. Even if we ensure that all the best safety standards are implemented and that both ours and the adversary team prudently play by strictly following all the rules, sometimes accidents still happen. But bad stuff happens even when you’re not playing sports: any physical activity can be dangerous, including skating or playing airsoft.
Even when you’re just taking care of a few kids running around in a playground, the risk that someone falls, slips or harms himself while dropping to the ground is always present. One of the most common accidents that an active person may incur into is a broken arm. Although calling out for professional help and waiting for an ambulance to arrive is always the best choice, sometimes it’s necessary to provide some basic treatment to the injured in the meanwhile.
For example, you may have to act rapidly and provide some basic form of first aid, such as when the patient is bleeding, or roads are too distant for ambulances to reach the place quickly enough. Nonetheless, you must be very careful – improvised treatment can be even more dangerous than no treatment at all if not properly administered.
Basic First Aid Procedures for Arm Fractures
The first thing to do is checking if bleeding is present such as when the patient was seriously injured. If possible, cut the sleeve to check the injury. Use a clean cloth or towel to apply a delicate but firm pressure to the wound area to stop the bleeding, but do not touch the bone or try to put it back in place if it’s protruding or sticking out of the skin.
Next, check if the person suffered any other serious injury such as a trauma to the head, neck, or back. Quickly perform a check on its body to see if he’s bleeding from other sources. People who are in shock are sometimes unable to perceive pain properly and can be unaware of movements that can worsen their conditions further.
Try to reduce swelling and pain by applying ice to the injured area and elevating the arm above the heart (only if possible, do not force movements). Do not put the ice bag directly on the skin: use a towel or cloth to protect the patient from cold burnings, and remove it for a while every 20-30 minutes.
If the injury is not too serious, you should try to immobilize and stabilize the arm. This can be the trickiest part of broken arm first aid treatment as you should avoid moving the arm as much as possible. Do it only if you’re sure of what you’re doing. You can use a towel or the previously cut sleeve as a sling and place it under the arm and around the neck. You can also carefully tape the arm to a rolled-up newspaper or another rigid item (like a stick or a ruler) and tape it in place.
Routine Practices and Additional Precautions
If you have some medications at hand such as an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug or a pain reliever, you may think that giving them to the patient could be a good idea. Just wait, though. The injured person might suffer from allergies or intolerances, so always remember to ask the patient if he can take these medications before administration. Also, check if the injured suffers from any pre-existing condition which might require additional emergency treatment, including hemophilia, or if he’s already taking any other medication. Just don’t be overzealous: do not rush to a pharmacy, and let the professionals do their job.
If the patient was found lying on the ground when he suffered the injury, check whether he or she is in shock. After the accident, that person may have spent a lot of time exposed to the sunlight and may show signs of heat exhaustion. Try to stave off dehydration, and if the patient looks confused or feverish, try to prevent a heat stroke from by lowering his body temperature with a wet towel.
Last Words of Advice
If you are providing basic first aid treatment to a person who just broke his arm, you should keep your head cool at all times. An injured person can be very nervous, so try to avoid stressing him further. To help him calm himself you should first calm yourself down, so if you’re too scared or nervous, let someone else help him to avoid doing more harm than good.
But don’t forget: do not improvise yourself a nurse if you have no knowledge of first aid, and always call 911 as soon as you can!
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over 5 years ago from Nicolas Gras, Creative Project Manager
Hello designers, I work in freelance for a friend of mine but I broke my right clavicle. I can barely move my arm with the mouse. How do you manage your work in moments like that? Should I learn to use my left hand? Is it long to learn gestures with the hand you don’t use normally?
Thank you for sharing your experiences!
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Pro-tip: Don’t break your arms if you need them to make money
I am being nice, it’s the reality especially in countries without free medical care.
If it happens to you then you shouldn’t be doing things that might damage the healing. So don’t do things in the first place that could cause you to break your arms unless you can afford the time off work and medical care.
Perhaps it would be easier to use a trackpad? You can also use something like BetterTouchTool to make some pretty advanced trackpad gestures to get work done more efficiently. I hope your arm gets better!
^ This. Whether a standalone trackpad or one on a laptop, it’s much less strain than having to maneuver a mouse around.
Feel better soon Nicolas!
Thank you Laurens, effectively, using the trackpad and keyboard with my broken arm is a good solution I found. I switched my mouse to the left and I’m learning, faster than expected 🙂
I’m sorry to hear about the accident.
I broke my right radius near the wrist and displaced the ulna in a bike accident in 2010.
I’m right-handed, but I started using my left hand right away for almost everything. Believe it or not, you can get pretty adept in a short period of time. Trackpad started slowly, but got better within about a week, and within 3 weeks it started to feel natural, but it would get tired more quickly (all those years build up a lot of muscle tone on one side).
Where things were very hard was in holding down modifier keys while performing a gesture. I never found a great way around that.
What I did notice though was that I started using my left hand more unconsciously, like I had used my right. There are all kinds of little performative advantages that your dominant hand has, but your less dominant hand can learn over time.
I love Lauren’s suggestion of Better Touch Tool, and would suggest exploring the accessibility options. But beyond that, besides practice, the most effective thing was to decide more carefully what I’d spend my limited movement on: which emails to write, how much to say, what things to try in other apps. You still have movement, but a tighter budget, so spend it as best you can.
Lastly, as a freelancer, contact your clients right away and let them know what’s up and what to expect. Hopefully they will be understanding.
Take care, work the physio they give you and more, eat well and rest lots. It’ll get better.
Hey Todd, thanks for your advices. you’re right, switching to the left hand is not complicated as I expected! For my clients it’s all right, I do this in my free time and work generally for long date friends
Bummer to hear! I also broke my clavicle recently. Happened 4 weeks ago on the left side, so luckily it’s not my dominant arm.
It’s possible that your break is worse than mine, but after initial swelling went away, I found myself fairly capable at using the mouse and keyboard once my hand was positioned in the right spot. It took some getting used to, using my other arm to move the broken one into place, but once it was stabilized on the desk surface, I didn’t notice too much discomfort using a computer.
Hopefully you’ll be able to get back to work in a day or two!
Hey Dennis, thank you for sharing! My break is ok, I can move my shoulder and my others arm’s parts, it’s just my clavicle who get damaged. So yes, being in the right position is a good solution, I’m experimenting with this and switching hand, will see in the future
Can you move your thumb? If you can, you could use a trackball mouse. I’ve used the Logitech M570 on and off for the past year or so as I’ve had problems with RSI. It takes a little getting used to, but when you get the hang of it, it’s pretty alright.