Every year in the United States, tens of millions of people sustain a broken bone, or fracture. While many broken bones happen on the sports field, in a car accident, or during a traumatic fall, a significant number of fractures are caused by osteoporosis, a progressive condition that weakens bones and leaves them susceptible to breakage.
Any time you or a member of your family experiences a serious but non-life-threatening injury like a bone fracture, you don’t need an appointment to see our team at American River Urgent Care in Orangevale, California. We provide as-needed urgent care services, including on-site diagnostic X-rays, every day of the week.
Here, we discuss the common signs and symptoms of a broken bone, and explain what kind of immediate first aid a fracture requires before you reach our walk-in clinic.
Understanding bone fractures
Bone tissue is firm enough to create a solid and supportive framework, but it’s also flexible enough to provide a certain degree of give under pressure. In the most basic sense, a fracture occurs when an outside force pushes a bone beyond its structural resilience.
The severity of a traumatic, non-stress fracture is usually related to the extent of the force that caused it. An intense impact force may cause a bone to shatter, while a mild force that’s only slightly greater than a bone’s breaking point may only produce a simple hairline crack.
Even though bones can break in various ways, all fracture types fall into one of the following categories:
Any broken bone that doesn’t break the skin is classified a simple, or closed, fracture. Most stable fractures, partial bone breaks, hairline cracks, and stress fractures are simple. Because they often feel like a severe sprain or even a torn muscle, simple fractures can be difficult to diagnose without an X-ray.
Simple fractures can also be obvious, however, such as when they cause a visible deformity like an unnatural bend, or hinge-type movement where there is no joint.
A broken bone that punctures the skin is called a compound, or open, fracture. The skin may be broken open by the external force that caused the fracture, or by the splintered bone itself.
Compound fractures tend to be obvious, especially if bone is visible or protruding through the skin. They also tend to carry a higher risk of infection, whether the bone is jutting out from the wound or not.
Common bone fracture symptoms
A typical bone fracture produces an audible popping or snapping sound as it occurs, followed by immediate pain and limited movement. The 5 most common signs of a broken bone are:
- Continuous pain that worsens with movement or under pressure
- Intermittent pain that’s triggered by activity and relieved by rest
- Difficulty moving or using the affected body part in a normal way
- Persistent swelling, warmth, and redness around the affected area
- Rapid bruising that makes the area feel very tender to the touch
Still, bone fractures aren’t always obvious; a stress fracture may only cause mild discomfort and swelling that improves greatly with rest, while a partial simple break may not be as painful or as immobilizing as you’d expect.
First-aid care for broken bones
Any time you suspect a broken bone, it’s important to have an expert evaluation as soon as possible — fractures that don’t receive prompt and proper treatment can heal incorrectly or get worse as you continue using the damaged bone.
In most cases, prompt and proper fracture care can begin before you reach our office. Call 911 for immediate emergency help if:
- You suspect a bone is broken in the spine (back, neck), or skull (head)
- A bone has punctured through the skin and/or is causing heavy bleeding
- The affected limb or joint looks deformed; even light pressure is painful
- The extremity of the injured limb has poor circulation and is turning blue
While you’re waiting for emergency care, keep the injured person still (unless you need to move them to avoid further injury). Do not wash any wounds, attempt to push a protruding bone back in, or try to realign a broken bone.
If the fracture isn’t too severe, use the following first-aid care strategies to protect the injured area before you reach our urgent care clinic:
Control any bleeding
Use a sterile bandage, clean cloth, or clean piece of clothing to control bleeding in an open fracture. Apply gentle pressure without pushing on the bone.
Immobilize the injured area
Keep the injured area — usually a limb — immobilized in the same position you found it; never attempt to straighten or otherwise realign a suspected fracture site.
If you have materials to fashion a splint and have been trained in how to apply one, you can try placing splints to the areas above and below the fracture area. Using broad bandages and padding can help minimize discomfort.
If you don’t feel comfortable applying a splint, help the injured person stay as still as possible and keep the affected area immobilized.
Control immediate swelling
If you have ice packs or a bag of ice, wrap it in a towel or cloth and gently hold it against the injured area to limit swelling and ease pain.
Seek professional care
When it comes to bone fractures, the right first aid approach can go a long way in keeping the injured area protected and preventing further damage. Prompt expert diagnosis and treatment is the next step. Come to our office right away during normal business hours, or head to your nearest emergency room after hours.
If you think you’ve broken a bone, our experienced providers at American River Urgent Care can help. Call 916-287-8569 or click online to schedule a same-day visit at your convenience, or stop in any time during our normal business hours.