We studied the epidemiology of 401 fractures of the shaft of the humerus in 397 patients aged 16 years or older. The incidence was 14.5 per 100,000 per year with a gradually increasing age-specific incidence from the fifth decade, reaching almost 60 per 100, 000 per year in the ninth decade. Most were closed fractures in elderly patients which had been sustained as the result of a simple fall. The age distribution in women was characterised by a peak in the eighth decade while that in men was more even. Simple fractures were by far the most common and most were located in the middle or proximal shaft. The incidence of palsy of the radial nerve was 8% and fractures in the middle and distal shaft were most likely to be responsible. Only 2% of the fractures were open and 8% were pathological. These figures are representative of a population with a low incidence of high-energy and penetrating trauma, which probably reflects the situation in most European countries.