Ways to Tell if a Bone is Broken

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You know you’ve wondered — kids crash into stuff all the time.  Bikes, soccer, climbing bars…  Today we’ll reivew Ways to Tell if a Bone is BrokenHere's a few ways to tell if a bone is broken.  None are for SURE -- but it just might save you a copay. :)

But, since Conner did slam Spencer’s hand in the slider door the other day, I thought I’d go over what I do when I think the kids may have injured themselves.

The info I am presenting here is a combination of a REALLY in-depth first aid class that I took in college (that I actually, highly recommend to anyone who wants to become a mom someday — except for the “foreign objects day” — I almost threw up that day, and heavens knows I can watch a lot of gross stuff). Anyway, also working in peds and obviously 10 years of watching ER… or longer. How long was that show on anyway? Oh, and having 2 little boys. There is usually a weekly occurrence of me walking in planning to see bone jutting out of some one’s skin. So far, no breaks here. {viciously knocking on wood}. We have had stitches though. :)

So, your child has had a “trauma” and says that something hurts. These are the steps that go through my mind:

1. Visually inspect. Is anything at a weird angle, are they holding it funny. What do you see. Dislocations also happen pretty frequently in kids, but that will usually be pretty easy to detect on a visual inspection.

2. Have them move it. They won’t want to… but sometimes I’ll give them a Popsicle or the ice pack and make sure they’re using that limb to get it. They’ll say it REALLY hurts. Doesn’t it always REALLY hurt? I know.

3. Often, even if it’s broken they’ll still be able to move it (although, usually they’re REALLY complaining about it if they do). If there’s still a lot of complaining to do I will tap on it on the joint. I have’ heard (and saw at the pedi’s office) that if you tap a broken bone on one of the ends, and it’s really broken they’ll have shooting pain. So far, none of my kids have made it through this step. You can also kind of feel along the area with your hands — see if you see anything. Swelling will happen with any trauma, so unless it’s a LOT of swelling, it’s not much of an indicator.

4. Leg pain can be a little bit different. In my first aid class they said the 3 step rule. If they can walk more than 3 steps on it, it’s probably not broken. Assess your child though, some kids can’t walk 3 steps if their backpack is too heavy — so obviously, this has to be molded to your child and their pain tolerance.

5. Kiss it better. I try to remind myself that this is the time my kids can get a bit of loving from me. Give them an ice pack and a hug. That could be all they wanted anyway. Of course, my kids tend to injure themselves most often while I’m making dinner. Booo to that. I should listen to this step a little more.

6. Give it a day. Is it still hurting? Green stick fractures (kids bones aren’t quite as solid as adults, so sometimes they’ll splinter like a green stick — still allowing movement but it will hurt) can be tricky stuff. I saw several parents after 3-4 days of the kid complaining, but still being able to do their regular stuff come in just so the doctor could say nothing was wrong — and they walk out feeling horrible and their child has a cast on. Life happens moms, don’t feel guilty. :)

So, it’s not broken but it is still hurting: Use the RICE method:

Rest — time for some TV, or a nice book.
Ice — Put an ice pack in a dishtowel and then on the injured area, you don’t want the ice pack touching their skin, so I use a dishtowel.
Compression — put an ACE banadage on it, it reduces swelling. Wrap towards the heart.
Elevation — put it up, on a pillow or whatnot.

Rice method goes for any injury — adults or children. If you don’t have an ACE bandage at your house, go get one. They’re handy things to have around. I even have one in each car.

So, there you go. That’s my personal process. Don’t think you need to head straight to the ER if you have a broken arm. Call your regular doctor first — a lot of time they can handle it in the office and you can avoid the nasty co-payment. We worked in possible breaks all the time. Usually the doctor will look at the child, do a bit of poking and prodding and then send you off to X-ray anyway.

Hilary is an RN, BSN who has worked in various medical fields for the past 12 years, however, none of the information on this blog, should be substituted for the care of a physician. The information provided on this blog is informational only and shouldn’t be taken as medical advice. You have instinct, use it — and use it wisely. If you have questions, please ask your doctor. If you think you have a medical or psychiatric emergency, please call 911. Also, please don’t delay contacting a physician due to something you have read on here. Pulling Curls doesn’t take responsibility for your health. That’s your job. We’re just a nice read.

**Be sure to check out my other TMI posts for more health questions answered:


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3 Questions


  1. Burns Family says

    I like this advise, it would have helped this weekend, when accidentally I shut my daughters thumb in the door jam (a story for another day). I thought it had to be broken. Luckily it does not appear to be, and I did most of the steps you described, but was unsure if I was doing all I could.

  2. says

    ah broken bones. I broke my ankle and walked up and down stairs and all over the house. But then again, I’m not a child just not too bright.:)

    My granddaughter fell off the couch. She was four at the time. She didn’t break her arm – she bent it. It still has a curve in it a year later.

    My other monkey granddaughter fell from a monkey bar. I was hoping it would be okay but the pain did not go away so we took her to the hospital the next day and it turned out to be fractured.

    About ten years ago one of my daughters thought she could fly = she held her arms out = not holding onto the swing at all – when she was way up high. She fell. It was easy to see that her arm was broken. She couldn’t move it and it looked misshapen.

    About thirty years ago, my sister decided to let go of her bike’s handlebars and fell. She broke her arm. There’s just something about the way they hold their arm when it’s broken.

    Last year my brother was sitting on the couch. Apparently he leaned forward and fell onto the floor breaking the bones in his foot. The swelling and bruising were bad.

    Oh my gosh, my family certainly has had our share of broken bones.

  3. says

    Praying I never need this advice, but definitely pinning it and reading it again!

    When my daughter was 2 I thought she had a broken arm. She was always climbing and she told me her arm hurt. She refused to use it, kept crying….. I was at the point that I called the grandparents to stay with her little brother to go to the hospital. Daddy came in and gave her a popsicle, telling her to try to use her hurt arm. And what do you know, it was all better. (Thankfully.)

  4. Crystal says

    I don’t know. Some of this seems entirely inaccurate according to the 2 experiences, oh, no, 3 we’ve had. First was my mother’s fractured ankle. Swelling, no bruising. Second was my arm, swelling, no bruising. Third was my son. Was running and tripped and fell and landed on the edge of the concrete. I knew it was at least fractured if not broke. Hubby disagreed. At the time we had one car (his) and he refused to go in. I had enough, called my Mom to take us…. he had 2 fractures. Swelling……no bruising. My understanding is that often you may not really bruise with a fracture because its not the soft tissue that is damaged.

    • says

      Yup, I’m not saying this works 100% of the time, but that’s just some ideas to go off of. I actually don’t think bruising or swelling is a huge indicator. Sounds like you’ve had a lot of broken bones!


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