Last week a friend called me, absolutely frantic, that her child may have broken their arm. She was hysterical on the phone. Once she calmed down, I walked her through step by step what to do to look for broken bone symptoms.
And then it hit me. All moms need to know the simple process for deciding if an injury needs immediate attention or if it can wait a few days. My method is Certain types of fractures still allow. Injuries are stressful enough; there’s no need to complicate the process with a 17 step evaluation process. What we’re looking for are easily identifiable red flags that say ‘yes, go to the doctor now’ or ‘no, you can wait.’ That’s it.
It’s really that simple. When your kid gets hurt, the actual diagnosis doesn’t matter. All we’re trying to decide is how urgently they need medical attention.
So what’s my broken bone symptom assessment?
I do think you need to have a basic understanding of broken bone symptoms before we hop into the assessment.
Broken Bone Symptoms
- Pain or swelling in the injured area
- Visible deformity in the injured area
- Difficulty using or moving the injured area in a reasonable manner
- Inability to bear weight on a lower extremity
You’re probably thinking, ‘Those symptoms look a lot like symptoms for other injuries.’ Yes, you’re right. They are. That’s why the assessment portion is so important.
Three steps. That’s it.
1. Visually Inspect
Quickly scan the body part to see if it is oriented the right way. You’ll know immediately if fingers or legs are pointing the wrong way. What do you see when you look at the injured body part? Is anything hanging weird? If a bone is sticking out or something looks WRONG, go to the doctor ASAP.
Trust your gut. You know what normal looks like. So it’s easy to identify something that looks grossly wrong.
2. Try to Move It
Our body is intuitive. If your kid doesn’t want to move the injured extremity, it’s for a reason. Trust their body. There are times where my kids tell me something hurts, and they can’t move it. Well, can’t move and don’t want to move are two different things. So I bribe them. I offer a special treat and see how they get the treat. If they walk to me or try to grab it with the injured limb, I know we’re probably not dealing with a broken bone.
Occasionally, even if it’s broken your kid might still be able to move it (although, usually they’re whining about it if they do). In this instance, I will tap just above the spot where the kid has most of their pain. When you tap on a broken bone, it causes the jagged fracture site to rub together. This hurts. So it’s an easy way to decide if there’s a fracture quickly.
NOTE– the tap test is not foolproof. You can still have a fracture that did not cause pain with tapping.
3. Give it a Day
After a day, is your kid still complaining? Have any other broken bone symptoms popped up? There are certain types of fractures that still allow movement but do hurt.
My mom is a physical therapist. When my sisters and I were younger, she was continually fielding injury complaints daily. I remember once my youngest sister would not stop complaining about her arm hurting. My mom finally took her to the doctor after a few days of complaining and she walked out feeling horrible, and my sister had a cast on.
Life happens, don’t feel guilty.
It’s not broken, but your kid is still whining. Now what?
Use the RICE method:
Rest — time for a movie day or unlimited ipad time; whatever you need to do to keep your kid still.
Ice — Use ice for 20 minutes on, 2 hours off throughout the day.
Compression — put an ACE bandage on it, it reduces swelling. Wrap towards the heart; you’re trying to push the swelling out of the area and provide support.
Elevation — put it up, on a pillow or something soft and comfortable.
Rice method goes for any injury — adults or children. If you don’t have an ACE bandage at your house, go get one. They’re handy things to have around.
Things to have on hand for injuries:
- Ace Wrap — these provide the compression we talked about above — don’t apply it too tight, but stretch it a bit as you put it on.
- Ice Packs — we use frozen peas
- Gauze — works better than a paper towel if there’s bleeding.
So, there you go. That’s my process.
Please don’t head straight to the ER if you have a broken arm. Call your regular doctor first — a lot of time they can handle it in the office. The doctor will look at your child, do a bit of poking and prodding and then send you off to X-ray anyway.