Do I Have a Broken Bone?

4 Signs You Might

Without an X-ray, it can be difficult to tell if an individual has a fracture, or broken bone. In fact, some people may even be able to walk on a fractured leg depending on where their injury is. While all fractures cause pain, there are other signs to look out for that may indicate that a bone is broken.

This article will explain four major signs of a fracture. It will also explore what a broken bone feels like, treatment options, and when to seek emergency medical attention.

Signs of a Broken Bone

Verywell / Seth Williams

Bruising

Bruising is bleeding beneath the skin that occurs when small blood vessels break due to trauma. It can happen with almost any kind of tissue damage and may indicate either a minor and major bone fracture.

With a fracture, blood can also leak from the broken bone itself. With more severe fractures, the leaking blood can cause bruising that is widespread.

Bruises tend to be purple at first and change to yellow as the injury heals.

Swelling

Swelling can also be a sign of a broken bone. Injuries can cause fluids and sometimes blood to leak into soft tissues like muscle, fat, and skin.

All that extra fluid causes the soft tissues to swell, or appear puffy.

Appearance

The appearance of an injury can help indicate whether it's broken. When the arm or leg bends in places and ways it's not supposed to, there's a good chance that there's a bone fracture.

If the bone is sticking out through the skin, it may be both broken and dislocated. This type of injury is also called a compound or open fracture.

Crepitus

A crunchy feeling under the skin is known as crepitus. This usually occurs when broken bits of bone rub together.

If you feel this and have other symptoms, there's a good chance you have a fracture.

Should You Go to the Emergency Room?

Head to an urgent care clinic or an emergency room if:

  • The injury impacts the head or spine
  • The fracture impacts a large bone, like your thigh bone (femur)
  • The fracture feels extremely painful due to a large break
  • The bone has punched its way through the skin
  • A limb is obviously misaligned

If these don't apply, you can likely wait to be examined. Call your healthcare provider's office to set up an appointment.

A medical professional will use an X-ray to give you a diagnosis.

Difference Between Fractures and Dislocations

A dislocation involves a joint, like the knee, not a bone. The joint gets seriously out of alignment, which can actually be worse than a fracture.

In most cases, a broken bone stays close to where it's supposed to be. Dislocations cause stretching and sometimes even tearing of ligaments and tendons.

If you think you have a dislocation, contact your doctor right away, or head to urgent care.

How Is a Fracture Usually Treated?

Your healthcare provider will give specific instructions for fracture treatment. The METH method will likely be incorporated into their recommendations:

  • Movement of the injury: Flex and extend what you can, although you might have to keep the injury still to allow it to heal.
  • Elevate: Raise an injured arm or leg above the level of the heart.
  • Traction: This is a technique where the injured individual uses weights and pulleys to pull the bone into alignment. This should only be done under doctor's supervision.
  • Heat: Apply warm, moist heat to the area. Be sure it's not too hot.

Try to avoid anti-inflammatory medications like Advil (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen sodium) if you have a fracture. Anything that stops the inflammatory process, which is the immune system's healing response, can slow down recovery.

Summary

A fracture, or broken bone, can be difficult to confirm without the use of an X-ray. However, there are some signs that indicate that you most likely have a fracture. These include:

  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • A twisted or bent appearance
  • Crepitus, or a crunchy feeling beneath the skin

Go to the emergency room if your head or spine is injured, the fracture impacts a large bone, you are in excruciating pain, the bone is visible through the skin, or a limb is obviously not properly aligned. Otherwise, call your healthcare provider for advice on next steps.

Your doctor will offer you specific instructions for how to best care for your fracture, which may involve elevation, traction, and other measures.

A Word From Verywell

Whether you go to the emergency room or to your private healthcare provider, you'll most likely have to get a temporary splint. You may then be referred to an orthopedic doctor, a physician who specializes in bones, joints, and muscles, who can give you a cast and decide if you need surgery.

With proper rest, along with following your healthcare provider's instructions, you should be on your way to a healed bone.

Was this page helpful?
9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hartford Hospital. Fractured fibula.

  2. Uçar BY, Necmioğlu S, Bulut M, Azboy İ, Demirtaş A, Gümüş H. Determining bone bruises of the knee with magnetic resonance imaging. Open Orthop J. 2012;6(1):464-467. doi:10.2174/1874325001206010464

  3. Pape HC, Marcucio R, Humphrey C, Colnot C, Knobe M, Harvey EJ. Trauma-induced inflammation and fracture healing. J Orthop Trauma. 2010;24(9):522-5. doi:10.1097/BOT.0b013e3181ed1361

  4. Cleveland Clinic. Bone fractures. Updated November 30, 2020.

  5. Cedars Sinai. Word: crepitus. Updated February 17, 2020.

  6. HCA Midwest Health. Broken bone or sprain. Updated July 20, 2021.

  7. Cleveland Clinic. Dislocation. Updated July 8, 2018.

  8. Reid SA, Andersen JM, Vicenzino B. Adding mobilisation with movement to exercise and advice hastens the improvement in range, pain and function after non-operative cast immobilisation for distal radius fracture: a multicentre, randomised trialJournal of Physiotherapy. 2020;66(2):105-112. doi:10.1016/j.jphys.2020.03.010

  9. Lisowska B, Kosson D, Domaracka K. Positives and negatives of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in bone healing: the effects of these drugs on bone repairDrug Des Devel Ther. 2018;12:1809-1814. doi:10.2147/DDDT.S164565