How Do You Know if You’ve Broken a Bone?

Bones may be made of pretty hard stuff, but a bad fall or a hard impact, such as a car accident, can be enough to cause them to break. If you’re trying to avoid a visit to the emergency room for an x-ray, then it can be hard to tell if you’ve broken a bone or not, and so here are some of the things that you should look out for. 


There’s no doubt about it, breaking a bone hurts, but the pain you can expect to feel will differ depending on the bone you break and how badly you break it.

With small fractures on small digits such as the toes or fingers, it’s possible to not even realize you’ve broken a bone and the pain can be easily controlled with over the counter painkillers.

A broken wrist, ankle, arm, or rib, on the other hand, can cause significantly more pain, and you’ll likely need to seek medical assistance for stronger pain relief. 


When you break a bone, your body will automatically start its own healing process, which often involves swelling. Swelling happens when the body sends a rush of cells to the damaged site.

Although a natural process, swelling can often cause more harm than good, as when a fracture site begins to swell, nerve endings can become compressed and the site may become even more painful. To help reduce swelling, try applying ice to the area and elevate it if possible to allow for better drainage.

As the site swells you may also start to notice bruising, this can often take several days to show in full especially if the bruising is bone-deep. 


In extreme cases where a bone has completely broken the affected area may seem deformed as parts of the body rotate to sit unnaturally.

Similarly, sometimes if a break has been very severe, the broken bone may even protrude out of the skin in which case medical intervention is always needed and you may need to see an orthopedic surgeon who will screw your broken bone back in its rightful place.

What to do if you think you have a broken bone

Whether it’s your finger or something a lot larger like your leg, it’s always best to seek medical help as soon as possible if you think that you have broken a bone.

Although you’re probably not hungry, it’s best not to eat or drink anything before you go to the hospital, just in case you may need an anesthetic. Without medical assistance, you could get an infection, some bones may not heal properly and the bones could even reset themselves in the incorrect place leading to further complications later down the line.

At the hospital, a healthcare professional will be able to take an x-ray of the area, revealing the extent of the break and, depending on the severity, will then be able to provide the necessary treatment such as a plaster cast to hold it in place while it heals. 

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell is a husband, father, martial artist, budget-master, Disney-addict, musician, and recovering foodie having spent over 2 decades as a leader for Whole Foods Market. Click to learn more about me

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