How to Tell if You've Broken a Bone
Everything You Need to Know About Bone Fractures
A bone fracture occurs when there's enough pressure on a bone to cause it to break or split. Bone fractures or broken bones can happen for a number of reasons. They can also take several forms. In some cases, a bone will break into two pieces. In other circumstances, the bone can fracture into several parts.
How a bone fracture is treated depends on the type and severity of the break. If you're concerned that you might have broken a bone, the best thing to do is see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment ASAP. Otherwise, here's what you need to know about broken bones so you can recognize one if it occurs in the future.
Types of Bone Fractures
A bone can break in multiple ways. The type of bone fracture a person experiences can determine how it's treated and how long it takes to heal. Some types of fractures can be more dangerous than others, as well. For example, if a bone fractures and pierces through the skin, there's a chance of infection in the wound.
Broken bones typically fall into the following categories1:
● Closed fracture: In a closed fracture, the broken bone doesn't break through the skin.
● Open or compound fracture: In a compound or open fracture, one end of the bone does pierce the skin or the skin otherwise opens.
● Stable fracture: With a stable fracture, the bone splits evenly and cleanly.
● Displaced fracture: With a displaced fracture, a gap or opening forms in the bone.
● Transverse Fracture: A transverse fracture occurs when the bone breaks horizontally.
● Oblique Fracture: An oblique fracture occurs when the bone breaks on a diagonal.
● Spiral Fracture: A spiral fracture occurs when the break rotates or twists around the bone.
● Comminuted Fracture: A comminuted fracture occurs when the bone breaks in multiple locations.
Signs of a Bone Fracture
In some cases, a broken bone is immediately obvious. There's no mistaking that a fracture has occurred if the bone is visible through an opening in the skin. In other instances, it can be difficult to tell a bone fracture from another issue, such as a sprain.
Often, when a bone is broken, it will be difficult to move the affected area. You might feel a lot of pain if you try to lift a broken arm or stand on a broken leg.
Another sign of a broken bone is a deformity in the area. The arm, leg, or another area might look misshapen or there might be a bump or lump. Bruising and swelling are also likely to occur.
What Causes Bone Fractures?
Bone break for several reasons. Often, an extreme force is what leads to the fracture. For example, a person can break a leg or arm after falling from a height and landing on the affected limb. Car accidents or sporting accidents can also cause bone fractures.
In other cases, a bone can break due to repeated use. People who run a lot might develop stress fractures on their shin bones, due to the force that's repeatedly put on the lower legs.
A bone can break because the material itself has become weakened over time. People with osteoporosis have a higher risk of bone fractures than people without the disease. Osteoporosis leads to bone loss and contributes to up to two million bone fractures annually2.
Treatment Options for a Bone Fracture
Before a doctor treats a broken bone, they will take an X-ray of the area to determine the type of fracture and the severity of the break. The X-ray provides a clear image of what has happened to the bone.
Depending on the size of the bone that broke, a common treatment is to put the affected area in a cast. A cast immobilizes the bone so that the fractured pieces can grow back together. Smaller bone fractures, such as broken fingers or toes, usually don't need a cast. They can be treated with a splint.
If the bone shattered or broke in several areas, surgery might be needed to repair it.
Some bone fractures are medical emergencies. If the skin is broken or the person has lost consciousness, the best option is to call 911. Even if the broken bone isn't an emergency, it's still important to see a medical provider as soon as possible for treatment.
1. Fractures (Broken Bones), American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/fractures-broken-bones/
2. What is Osteoporosis and What Causes It?, National Osteoporosis Foundation, https://www.nof.org/patients/what-is-osteoporosis/