Breaks and sprains are extremely common, but how do you know whether you have broken a bone or just have a soft tissue injury?

The honest answer is, that unless the bone is sticking out, or the limb is at a very peculiar angle, the only way to know for sure that a bone is broken is to have an X-ray.

A fracture is another word for a broken bone.

Breaks and Sprains - how to help

Other possible signs:

Pain – it hurts

Loss of power, it can be hard to move a broken limb

Unnatural movement – the limb may be at an odd angle and have a wider range of movement than it should have

Swelling, bruising or a wound around the fracture site

Deformity- often limbs may be shortened, or the broken area could have lumps and bumps or stepping (with an injured spine it is uneven as you gently feel down their back)

Irregularity – lumps, bumps, depressions, or stretched skin

Crepitus – the grinding sound when the end of bones rub against each other

Tenderness – pain at the site of injury

Broken bones on their own, rarely cause fatalities. However, a severe break can cause the casualty to go into shock particularly if there is bleeding associated with the injury (either internal or external bleeding). Shock is life threatening.

Keep the casualty warm and dry and be aware that pain and stress will adversely affect their condition.

If you are at all worried about them, phone an ambulance.

Different types of fractures

types of fractures
open fracture

Open Fractures

If the bone is sticking out, the bone has to be broken! Your priority is to stop bleeding without pushing on the bone or moving the broken leg at all – then get emergency help.

Be very aware of the onset of shock – keep them warm and dry, if they show any signs of shock, lie them down, but do not elevate the injured limb.


Complicated fractures

With complicated fractures, muscles, nerves, tendons and blood vessels could be trapped and damaged. If you are aware that they have lost feeling in part of their limb, or if it has changed colour, they will need urgent medical treatment.

Keep them calm, warm and supported and phone for an ambulance.


Closed fractures

With a closed fracture, the bone has not come through the skin. Children commonly have greenstick fractures, where the bone doesn’t snap, but half breaks like a spring stick.


With closed fractures (and also with soft tissue injuries such as sprains and strains) – you should initially do the following:

PRICE  Treatment for soft tissue injuries and closed fractures

Protect the injury (stop using the injured limb, pad to protect)

Rest the injury

Ice – apply a wrapped ice pack

Comfortable support – apply a supportive bandage

Elevate – to reduce swelling

Care of soft tissue injuries

Call an ambulance if:

  • They start to show signs of shock
  • There is a possibility that they have injured their spine or head
  • They have any difficulty breathing or begin to lose consciousness
  • It is an open fracture, with the bone through the skin
  • If they lose feeling in the limb, or if it dramatically changes colour
  • You are unable to safely transport the child to hospital yourself keeping the limb stable and supported
  • There is a suspected pelvic or hip fracture
  • You are worried about them in any way.

It is strongly advised that you attend a Practical or Online First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency. Please visit or tel 0208 675 4036 for more information about our courses. First Aid for life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information.

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