Broken Bone (Types of Bone Fractures) (cont.)

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What are the signs and symptoms of a broken bone?

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Broken bones hurt. The lining of the bone (periosteum) is rich with nerve endings that can cause pain when inflamed; and the muscles surrounding the fracture go into spasm to prevent movement of the fracture site, and this spasm may intensify the pain.

Bones have a rich blood supply and will bleed when injured. This will cause swelling and the blood that seeps into the surrounding tissue will also cause further pain. The discoloration due to the blood can show up as dark red or purple bruise in the area of the fracture site.

Because muscles and tendons may not be damaged, the person may be able to move the injured extremity. For that reason, just because you can move the injured area, doesn't mean it's not broken.

If there is damage to a nearby artery, the injury may be cool and pale (distal to the injury), and if there is nerve damage, there may be numbness (distally).

When should I call a doctor if I think I have broken a bone?

Most broken bones require medical care but the urgency of that care depends upon the type of fracture and the circumstances.

How is a broken bone diagnosed?

  • The doctor will take a history of the patient's injury, examine the injury, and look for potential other injuries that may have occurred.
  • The skin surrounding the injured area is inspected to look for a laceration, scrape, or skin tear.
  • The area of tenderness and swelling will be evaluated to identify the injured bone.
  • The type of X-ray that is ordered depends on the specific injury.
  • Sometimes plain X-rays do not identify the injury. If the doctor is still concerned, CT scan or MRI might be ordered.

Fractures in children

Fractures may be difficult to diagnose in children because bones have not completely formed. Many parts of developing bone are comprised mostly of cartilage and have yet to have calcium deposited in them. Growing bone also has growth plates that may mimic or hide fractures. On occasion, the diagnosis of a fracture is made clinically based upon physical exam, even if the X-rays do not show an injury.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/14/2014

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