Advise Me

Does My Child Have a Broken Bone? Here’s How to Tell.

As parents, we want our kids to be active and healthy, whether they’re playing on the monkey bars, skateboarding, jumping on the trampoline or playing sports. But, short of covering them in bubble wrap every day, there isn’t much you can do to prevent them from getting hurt.

The truth is the harder kids play, the harder they may fall—no matter how much we help protect them. Sometimes they may hop right back up with just a bump or bruise, while other times it may result in a broken bone or growth plate fracture.

“The overall risk of a fracture during childhood is roughly 1 in 5,” said Matthew Brown, MD, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon with Banner Children's, who specializes in sports medicine and injuries. “However, the year-over-year risk is highest between the ages of 10 to 14.”

Although falls are a common part of childhood, not every fall results in a broken bone. As a parent it may be hard to differentiate a bruise or strain from a broken bone or fracture. Here, Dr. Brown shared what classic signs to look for and what to do next if you suspect your child has a broken bone.

How Do I Know If It’s Broken?

“There are many different signs, but crying, complaints of pain and refusal to use the extremity or bear weight are good indicators that they have a broken bone,” Dr. Brown advised. “Also, deformity or swelling out of proportion to the injury should be investigated.”

Tell-tale signs your child has a broken bone

  • Complaints of pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Obvious deformity of the bone
  • Refusal to use, move or bear weight on the extremity

What Do I Do Next?

It can be difficult to know when to take your child to Urgent Care vs. the Emergency Department, but, “if you believe your child has a broken bone but there isn’t a deformity or much swelling, then you can take them to the nearest urgent care unless you’ve already scheduled to see their pediatrician,” Dr. Brown advised. “Any gross bone or joint deformity should be seen in an emergency department, preferably one attached to a pediatric hospital, because the child may need to be sedated and have the fracture reduced and splinted.”

Concerning splinting, Dr. Brown added, “there isn’t much of a role for pre-emptive splinting or sling unless it helps get your child to the ED or urgent care."

When Should I Call 911?

“Call 911 if you are unable to take care of the situation and get your child to an ED on your own, when there is an open fracture, femur or displaced tibia fracture, or when the child is too large or heavy to move on your own,” Dr. Brown said. “Do not move your child if you believe they have a serious head, neck or back injury.”

Bottom Line

If your child does suffer a broken bone, remember that although scary, a fracture is a common, treatable injury that many kids experience. With proper treatment and a little patience, they’ll be back playing and running around in no time.

Banner Health is equipped to offer same day and next day appointments for pediatric fractures and acute injuries through one of our urgent care centers and emergency departments. Visit to find an expert near you.

Children's Health Parenting Orthopedics Sports Medicine