(BPT) - Ouch! Kids break bones in many ways. Whether from a fall, a sports-related injury, roughhousing or just an accident, a broken bone isn't something to take lightly. But, how do you know if it’s broken and what should you do next?
Know the signs
Broken bones are most common in the upper and lower extremities (limbs). The upper extremities include the arms, elbows, wrists and fingers and the lower extremities include the legs, knees, ankles and feet. Tendon and ligament injuries (sprains and strains) can happen in these areas as well, but don’t occur as frequently in children.
If your child has an extremity injury, there are a few ways to determine if they need to be seen immediately or if it can wait until later. Some symptoms may seem obvious; others may not. The general signs of a fracture are pain, bruising and swelling with tenderness over the area involved.
If the child or adult heard a snap or grinding sound when the injury occurred, it’s more likely to be a fracture, but not necessarily.
What should you do if you think it’s broken?
The severity of your child's injury will determine the level of care they need. If the area isn’t deformed, extremely swollen or bruised, immediate medical attention may not be necessary. You'll still want to make an outpatient appointment so a doctor can conduct an exam and X-rays if needed.
Your child will need immediate medical attention if:
- There is a break in the skin and bone is showing.
- They can’t bear weight on or use the extremity 15 minutes after the injury occurred.
- The pain is uncontrollable with rest, elevation, ice and over-the-counter pain medicine.
- There is a suspected neck or spine injury.
There are some things you can do at home to begin helping right away
Cut or remove clothes
If the arm or leg appears misshapen or swollen, carefully remove or cut clothing surrounding the affected area.
Try to reduce swelling
Apply a cold cloth or ice-wrapped towel to the swollen area. Avoid putting ice directly on the skin (without a cloth or towel), as it could result in frostbite.
Make a temporary splint
A makeshift splint can be used to help limit movement and prevent further injury until you can see a medical professional. You can create a makeshift splint with soft padding and something firm, like cardboard or folded-up newspapers, wrapped with an elastic bandage.
Broken bones can heal with the proper treatment
The doctor will provide specific direction, but kids usually need to wait at least three to six weeks before resuming normal activities so their broken bone can fully heal. The bigger the bone, the longer healing usually takes.
There are bone injuries that are more concerning. Fractures through the growth plate, fractures into the joint, and fractures that injured the nervous or vascular bundles can have long-term consequences. While breaking a bone can seem scary, with the proper medical attention and treatment, your child’s injury will heal, and they can go back to doing the things they love.
You know your child best. If you have concerns or are uncertain about the severity of the injury, it’s always best to seek treatment right away.
Learn more about bumps, bruises and broken bones from Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU at chrichmond.org/brokenbone.