This leaflet is created from first aid advice provided by St John Ambulance, the nation's leading first aid charity. This advice is no substitute for first aid training - find a training course near you.
A break or crack in a bone is called a fracture.
In most cases the damage to the bone will be under the skin, which is called a closed fracture, but sometimes bits of the bone can puncture through the skin to become an open fracture.
In both cases you'll need to treat the casualty for shock. Even if you can't see any blood, the break might have caused some internal bleeding.
To break a fully grown bone, a huge amount of force is needed. But bones that are still growing are supple and can split, crack or bend quite easily, a bit like a twig.
What to look for
The seven things to look for are:
- Difficulty moving.
- Movement in an unnatural direction.
- A limb that looks shorter, twisted or bent.
- A grating noise or feeling.
- Loss of strength.
What you need to do
- If it is an open fracture, cover the wound with a sterile dressing and secure it with a bandage. Apply pressure around the wound to control any bleeding.
- Support the injured body part to stop it from moving. This should ease any pain and prevent any further damage.
- Once you've done this, call 999 or 112 for medical help. While waiting for help to arrive, don't move them unless they're in immediate danger.
Waiting for medical help to arrive
Protect the injured area by using bandages to secure it to an uninjured part of the body to stop it from moving. For example, fractures on the arm can be secured with a sling, and a leg with a fracture can be tied to the uninjured leg.
Keep checking the casualty for signs of shock. This does not mean emotional shock, but is a life-threatening condition, often caused by losing blood.
If they lose responsiveness at any point, open their airway, check their breathing and prepare to treat someone who's become unresponsive.
Note: these hints are no substitute for thorough knowledge of first aid. St John Ambulance holds first aid courses throughout the country.
Adapted from the St John Ambulance leaflet: broken bones and fractures. Copyright for this leaflet is with St John Ambulance.