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Last updated: 04.10.17

Broken Bones First Aid

Please note that this information does not qualify you as an official first aider, and Virtual College advise calling 999 in the first instance at the scene of an emergency.

This material and any associated assessments do not constitute a qualification or accreditation as an official first aider. All content provided is for general information only.

Virtual College advocate dialling the emergency services before attempting any form of first aid.

Broken Bones First Aid

Broken bones are generally not as common as some might expect, and indeed, they are often misdiagnosed. However, they do still happen, and it’s very important to understand how they can be treated as part of first aid. In most cases they are not particularly serious or life-threatening injuries, but this is not always the case, which makes proper medical attention very important. In addition, correct first aid can be the first step in ensuring that broken bones heal properly, and go back to normal following the accident. In this article, we’re going to cover the ways in which you can determine if someone has broken a bone, and what you need to do to treat them.

This article is part of our series on first aid, and is related Virtual College’s extensive range of Health and Safety courses. Click here to find out more.

How to Recognise a Broken Bone

It’s not always easy to tell if someone has broken a bone or not, particularly when the injury is only fairly minor. There are however some general signs that can help you decide. It is also worth noting at this point that there are closed fractures and open fractures. Closed fractures remain under the skin, whereas open fractures pierce the skin and protrude outwards. The latter is naturally easier to identify.

Some of the symptoms you can look for include the following:

  • Swelling or bruising in the area that you suspect a fracture has occurred
  • Difficulty in moving the limb or digit that may be broken
  • Movement in the limb that does not appear to be normal
  • Twisted or misshapen limbs or digits
  • Crunching or grating noises when the body part is moved
  • Weakness or complete loss of strength

If you are in doubt, then depending on the severity, call for an ambulance or take the person to your local Accident and Emergency department as soon as you can. Closed fractures can only be identified with certainty by using an x-ray machine and they are sometimes hard to detect.

How to Treat a Broken Bone

The first thing to note is that broken bones can cause bleeding, which in turn may cause the body to suffer shock. This is a defined medical condition, not an emotional response and it can be life threatening. You must take steps immediately if you believe this may be the case. For more information on treating shock and what you need to do, please read our article on the subject here.

If the fracture is open, then your goal will initially be to cover the wound with some form of dressing to help guard against infection. You should also apply some careful pressure to it to control any bleeding that occurs. This will help prevent shock from arising as a result of blood loss.

Next, or if the fracture is closed, you must ensure that the injured is kept as still as possible to avoid further injury. It also needs to be supported, which may mean holding it in place until medical help can be sought. It’s often useful to use another part of the body to support the broken bone; for example, arms can be put in slings, and broken fingers can be strapped together. Broken leg first aid often involves strapping one leg to the other.

If you suspect that a bone has become dislocated in any way, you should under no circumstances attempt to put it back into place, as this could cause further injury and pain. Medical professionals will be able to make the call. Broken arm first aid must always be about support, not fixing the injury.

Once you have given first aid to the person, you should continue to monitor the person to ensure that they do not go into shock.

Our course on the Primary Survey is a very useful starting point for first aiders, Click here to find out more information.

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