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Leg or Arm Fractures

Bones can break (fracture) as a result of a fall, blow, or other trauma. Most fractures aren't life-threatening. But they may be very painful and lead to serious problems if not treated correctly. Getting the correct treatment is key for a healthy recovery.

Healthcare provider putting cast on woman's arm.

When to go to the emergency room (ER)

Any fracture to the leg or arm should be considered a medical emergency. The arm or leg shouldn't be moved until help arrives. Don't try to straighten or adjust the bone. This can damage the bone and injure nearby blood vessels and nerves. If an open wound is present, cover it with a clean cloth. This is to keep it from getting dirty and to help prevent infection.

What to expect in the ER

Here's what will happen in the ER: 

  • A healthcare provider will ask about your injury and examine you carefully.

  • Any wounds you have will be cleaned.

  • X-rays of the injured area will be taken.

Treatment

Treatment depends on where the bone is broken and if there's an open wound. If you have an open wound, you may receive IV (intravenous) antibiotics and have the wound flushed with sterile water. Most fractures are treated in 2 stages:

  • Reduction. The bone is put back into its correct position, if needed.

  • Immobilization. The bone is held in place so it doesn't move as it heals. For many arm or leg fractures, this is done with a splint or cast. Serious or compound fractures may need surgical repair. In that case, you'll be admitted to the hospital or referred to a bone specialist (orthopedic surgeon).

Signs of a leg or arm fracture

Here's what to look for:

  • The leg or arm is crooked

  • A joint looks out of place

  • A bone sticks out (protrudes) from the skin

  • Weight can't be put on the leg or arm

  • The limb swells or is very painful

  • The limb is numb or tingles

  • A popping or snapping was heard during the injury

  • Bruising

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