How do I know if I've broken a bone?

Broken bones can happen after an accident like a fall, or by being hit by an object.

The three most common signs of a broken bone (also known as a fracture) are:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • deformity

However, 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 be poking 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.

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 or urgent care centre.

Go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department for a broken arm or leg. Call 999 for an ambulance if the injury to the leg seems severe or you're not able to get to A&E quickly.

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

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.

Older people and those who have osteoporosis should be particularly careful, as their bones are weaker and may break more easily.

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 05/06/2017

Next review due: 05/06/2020