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How to Spot if Your Child Has a Broken Bone

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Broken bones are part and parcel of growing up. Kids play rough. They climb trees and fall out. They take a tumble in the gym or crash into a fence on their bike. It’s no big deal. Your child will end up with a cast on for a few weeks and earn the sympathy vote from all his friends. Then the cast comes off and life goes back to normal.


Much Ado About Nothing

As a parent, you have to deal with all manner of health problems, broken bones being just one. However, unless you are an emergency doctor, you might not be able to tell if your child has broken a bone or is just making a fuss about nothing. The difference between broken bones, dislocations and sprains/strains is not always obvious. If you’re worried, it is always best to visit the emergency room, but if you want an idea of what to look out for, read on.

Some broken bones are obvious. If the bone is poking through the skin, it is safe to assume it’s broken. In this instance, call 911 immediately, as there is a risk of infection and further complications if the fracture is not treated quickly. If the broken bone has damaged the skin, there will be bleeding, so apply a clean dressing and wait for help to arrive.

Signs of a Fracture

Pain is the most obvious sign of a fracture and a broken bone is very painful. If your child has broken a bone, he will be in pain. Some kids scream and cry when they scratch a finger whereas others don’t make a fuss unless it really hurts bad. You know your child better than anyone, so if they are making a huge fuss when normally they wouldn’t cry, suspect the worst.

If your child can’t walk or use his arm, then it’s a strong indication he has fractured a bone. Most people can just about walk on a sprained ankle or use their arm if they have sprained a wrist. It’s painful but usable. You can’t use a fractured limb. It is too painful. The only exception is a dislocated shoulder. This is extremely painful - your child won’t be able to use his arm or shoulder if it’s dislocated.

When a bone breaks, there is usually significant swelling and bruising. The whole area may swell up and turn shades of purple and blue. This is less likely with a sprain or dislocation.

Look at the area causing pain. Does it look odd or out of line? A broken bone can cause the limb to look crooked, even when the bone hasn’t broken the skin.

Non-Displaced Fractures

Some broken bones are hard to spot. If the bone is cracked rather than broken, it won’t be out of place and there may not be as much swelling or bruising. A greenstick fracture is common in very young children. In this case, the bone bends and breaks on one side.

If you suspect your child has a broken bone, take them to the ER for an x-ray so they can be treated.

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