Broken bones (fractures)

Broken bones can happen after an accident like a fall, or by being hit by an object. Anyone can break a bone. Older people and those with osteoporosis may fracture bones more easily. You should seek medical help immediately for a broken bone and call 999 for an ambulance if the injury is severe.

Signs of a broken bone

The three most common signs of a broken bone are:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • deformity

It can sometimes be difficult to tell whether a bone is broken if it isn't displaced.

If you have broken a bone, you may experience the following:

  • you may hear or feel a snap or a grinding noise as the injury happens 
  • there may be swelling, bruising or tenderness around the injured area
  • you may feel pain when you put weight on the injury, touch it, press it, or move it
  • the injured part may look deformed – in severe breaks, the broken bone may poke through the skin

In addition, you may feel faint, dizzy or sick as a result of the shock of breaking a bone.

If the break is small or it's just a crack, you may not feel much pain or even realise that you've broken a bone.

Common fractures

Bones which are commonly fractured include:

When to seek medical help

You should seek medical help as soon as possible if you think you've broken a bone. If you think you may have broken your toe or finger, you can go to a minor injury unit.

Go to your nearest emergency department for a broken arm or leg.

Call 999 for an ambulance if the injury seems severe or you're not able to get to an emergency department quickly.

Very severe suspected breaks, such as a broken neck or back, should always be treated by calling 999.

Treatment for a broken bone

The broken bone must be properly aligned and held in place, often with a plaster cast, so it heals in the correct position.

If you don't receive the correct treatment, you could develop a serious infection or a permanent deformity. You may also develop long-term problems with your joints.

It's important not to eat or drink anything if you think you've broken a bone, as you may need a general anaesthetic (where you're asleep) to allow doctors to realign it.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information, read terms and conditions.

This page was published January 2018

This page is due for review October 2020

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