Whenever you injure yourself in any way, it seems that the first thing everyone wants to know is: 'ooh, is it broken?'. It's almost as though the only way an injury could possibly be bad at all is if a bone has actually been snapped – never mind whether it hurts or whether it is preventing you from walking...
Obediently though, most of us will proceed to run through a series of checks to discern whether or not it in fact is broken so that we can proceed accordingly. But how do you know for sure if you've broken something or if it just hurts? Here we will look at how to tell whether something is broken or not... and how not to.
Can You Move It?
After asking if you have broken anything, the next question a lot of well-meaning friends will ask is whether or not you can still move your finger/leg/arm. The general belief is that if you can move it, then it's not broken so you can continue as normal. What's important to recognize here though is that being able to move your injured appendage has nothing to do with whether or not it is broken – and in fact people can go on for days and even months without even realising that they have a broken bone demonstrating just how mistaken this view is.
The term 'break' has been expanded in the last few years to include hairline fractures and other more minor problems so it's perfectly possible to break something under this definition and still be able to move it easily. In fact, even if you have a bone that's broken completely in half, you may still be able to move it just fine – as long as the muscles, the joint and the connective tissue are all still intact.
Signs of a Break
So what are the symptoms of a broken bone? Well these vary, but generally you should expect:
• Severe swelling
• Pain (though this may initially be masked by shock)
• Difficulty with movement (though not necessarily complete restriction)
• In extreme cases you may be able to see bone in places it shouldn't be (pushing against the skin or protruding from it) or you might notice that something is facing the wrong way/in the wrong place.
While many of these symptoms are signs that you may have a break, most of them could equally be symptoms of a pull, sprain or simple bruise. The only guaranteed signs that something has been broken are cases where you can see the bone protruding (though you may easily be able to mistake a dislocation for a break). At any rate, if you suspect there is any chance you have broken a bone then you should see a doctor or visit a hospital so that you can have the area x-rayed. That's the only way to know for sure.