If you've never broken a bone before, you might envision it as a dramatic event complete with a sharp snap, sudden searing pain, and even a bone protruding from the skin. But the truth is that broken bones aren't always as dramatic as they seem on TV, and depending on the situation, you might have a hard time identifying whether your bone was broken in the first place.
Whether you want to recognize the signs of a broken bone in the event of an accident or you wonder if your current pain suggests a broken limb, keep reading. We'll explain different types of breaks and fractures and when you should go to an urgent care or an ER.
Is a Broken Bone Different From a Fracture?
According to pop culture and lay terminology, there are only two types of broken bones: less-serious fractures and breaks where the bone pierces skin or the limb looks obviously deformed. However, a fracture is simply the medical term for a broken bone, and multiple types of fractures exist, only a few of which are easy to identify at a glance.
For instance, if you have a compound fracture, the bone punctures the skin, increasing the chance of infection. Comminuted fractures are often similarly traumatic — if you have this type of break, your bone has shattered into three or more pieces, usually because of a car accident or blunt force trauma.
Other fractures are harder to identify without an X-ray. Transverse fractures occur horizontally across the bone, while oblique fractures occur at an angle. In a greenstick fracture, the bone doesn't necessarily break — instead, it bends at an unnatural angle.
How Do Broken Bones Happen?
Broken bones often happen in traumatic events like car accidents or falls from trees and ladders. But broken bones result from all types of accidents, some so minor you might assume your bone is only bruised, not broken — and therefore doesn't warrant a trip to the doctor's office.
For example, you can break a toe simply by stubbing it too hard or fracture your wrist by slipping on ice and throwing an arm out to catch yourself.
What Are the Signs of a Broken Bone?
Swelling and inflammation at the site indicate you might have a broken bone after a slip, trip, or fall. Intense, focused pain that doesn't go away can also signify a broken bone. Since these signs can also signify a bruise or sprain, you should visit a doctor or an urgent care center for an X-ray if you think you've broken a bone.
An untreated break can heal incorrectly or cause a dangerous bone infection. If there's a chance your limb is fractured, don't risk potential complications. Visit a doctor instead.
Should You Go to an ER or Urgent Care for a Broken Bone?
The medical care you need depends on how bad your break is. If you clearly have a compound fracture or the break is bad enough that your limb looks deformed — in other words, if you don't need X-rays to determine that you have a broken bone — head to an emergency room immediately. An ER doctor can sedate you and quickly set an obviously broken bone.
On the other hand, if you can't tell if your bone is truly broken just by looking at it, you aren't bleeding, and the pain isn't overwhelming, an urgent care can usually get you in for X-rays faster and more affordably than an ER.
Need an urgent care visit for a potential broken bone or other ailment? If you live in Pickerington, Access Urgent Medical Care is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day of the week so you can get fast help on your schedule.