If more pressure is put on a bone than it can stand, it will split or break. A break of any size is called a fracture. If the broken bone punctures the skin, it is called an open fracture (compound fracture).
A stress fracture is a hairline crack in the bone that develops because of repeated or prolonged forces against the bone.
Bone - broken; Fracture; Stress fracture
It is hard to tell a dislocated bone from a broken bone. However, both are emergency situations, and the basic first aid steps are the same.
The following are common causes of broken bones:
- Fall from a height
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Direct blow
- Child abuse
- Repetitive forces, such as those caused by running, can cause stress fractures of the foot, ankle, tibia, or hip
- A visibly out-of-place or misshapen limb or joint
- Swelling, bruising, or bleeding
- Intense pain
- Numbness and tingling
- Broken skin with bone protruding
- Limited mobility or inability to move a limb
CHECK BLOOD CIRCULATION
Check the person's blood circulation. Press firmly over the skin beyond the fracture site. (For example, if the fracture is in the leg, press on the foot). It should first blanch white and then "pink up" in about two seconds. Other signs that circulation is inadequate include pale or blue skin, numbness or tingling, and loss of pulse. If circulation is poor and trained personnel are NOT quickly available, try to realign the limb into a normal resting position. This will reduce swelling, pain, and damage to the tissues from lack of blood.
- DO NOT move the person unless the broken bone is stable.
- DO NOT move a person with an injured hip, pelvis, or upper leg unless it is absolutely necessary. If you must move the person, pull the person to safety by his clothes (such as by the shoulders of a shirt, a belt, or pant-legs).
- DO NOT move a person who has a possible spine injury.
- DO NOT attempt to straighten a bone or change its position unless blood circulation appears hampered.
- DO NOT try to reposition a suspected spine injury.
- DO NOT test a bone's ability to move.
Call immediately for emergency medical assistance if
Call 911 if:
- There is a suspected broken bone in the head, neck, or back.
- There is a suspected broken bone in the hip, pelvis, or upper leg.
- You cannot completely immobilize the injury at the scene by yourself.
- There is severe bleeding.
- An area below the injured joint is pale, cold, clammy, or blue.
- There is a bone projecting through the skin.
Even though other broken bones may not be medical emergencies, they still deserve medical attention. Call your health care provider to find out where and when to be seen.
If a young child refuses to put weight on an arm or leg after an accident, won't move the arm or leg, or you can clearly see a deformity, assume the child has a broken bone and get medical help.
- Wear protective gear while skiing, biking, roller blading, and participating in contact sports. This includes helmets, elbow pads, knee pads, and shin pads.
- Create a safe home for young children. Gate stairways and keep windows closed.
- Teach children how to be safe and look out for themselves.
- Supervise children carefully. There is no substitute for supervision, no matter how safe the environment or situation appears to be.
- Prevent falls by not standing on chairs, counter tops, or other unstable objects. Remove throw rugs and electrical cords from floor surfaces. Use handrails on staircases and non-skid mats in bathtubs. These steps are especially important for the elderly.
Wells L, Sehgal K, Dormans JP. Common fractures. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. GemeIII JW, Schor NF, Behrman RE, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa:Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 675.
Geiderman JM, Katz D. General principles of orthopedic injuries. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 46.
Last reviewed 4/13/2013 by Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
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