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What does a cracked bone feel like?
December 20, 2005 6:51 AM   Subscribe

I fell and hurt my arm. Now it hurts to lift things, how do I know if this pain is from the normal bruising or from a cracked bone?

About a week ago I fell in the shower; my legs slipped out from under me and I fell onto my butt. I was facing away from the shower and my right arm was behind me and unfortunately got caught up in the plumbing (between one of the faucets and the water outlet thing). My arm hurt pretty bad at the time and for a few moments I was stunned; I couldn't think straight enough to turn the hot water off properly.

Anyway, it hurt at the time and a nice yellow bruise developed. But there didn't seem to be any bad effects apart from a sore arm.

However it's been a week and my arm is still sore. And I've noticed that lifting heavy weights with the arm is quite painful. I notice this especially when the arm is being used as a lever, even lifting my laptop with the arm is a little painful.

Is it possible that the bone in the forearm is cracked a little? Or is the pain probably due to the bruising? I would have thought that it would be obvious if the bone was cracked.
posted by schwa to Health & Fitness (14 answers total)
 
Feel around the bone. Press hard all over the place with one or two fingers. Squeeze the bone all over. Better yet, have someone else do it since it might not work as well doing it to yourself.

IIRC, pain from a cracked bone will be very sharp around the crack, as opposed to a broad area being sore.

I'm not a doctor though, and my first aid training was ten years ago, so might want to go get an X-Ray, because this thread will be filled with all sorts of conflicting advice, much of it bad. Probably starting with my own.
posted by bondcliff at 6:57 AM on December 20, 2005


Not to be too obvious, but go to the doctor as soon as possible. It's very possible you have a small fracture, and, if so, you should get it tended to ASAP. The only way to be sure is to have an x-ray.
posted by cerebus19 at 6:58 AM on December 20, 2005


To echo cerebus19, please have your arm x-rayed. I fractured my forearm when I was thrown from a horse I was training and didn't go into the doctor for about a week. Hairline fracture for the one arm put me in a cast.
posted by jeanmari at 7:01 AM on December 20, 2005


When, a very long time ago, I did first aid, we were taught that if you can still grip strongly with your hand, you haven't broken your arm. That said, cerebus19's advice is probably wise. (IANAD!)
posted by prentiz at 7:02 AM on December 20, 2005


prentiz, maybe. I lost grip strength after jamming my finger badly. I didn't break any bones. I regained the strength after my finger healed.
posted by malp at 7:15 AM on December 20, 2005


Yes, I know I probably should go to the Doctor if I am unsure - I have been considering it (obviously I am a little concerned otherwise I wouldn't have taken the time to post). But that said, I do have complete and normal use of the arm. I just get some pain if I lift something moderately heavy.
posted by schwa at 7:17 AM on December 20, 2005


You should stop lifting heavy things. The first thing the doctor is going to tell you is to not use the arm.
posted by smackfu at 7:30 AM on December 20, 2005


Deep muscle bruises can hurt for a long time, as I learned from a recent bike crash - I thought I'd cracked my collarbone but it was just tissue damage. I know it was only tissue damage because that's what my doctor said after looking at the X-ray. If you have insurance, by all means use it - better to know than to wonder.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:50 AM on December 20, 2005


I broke a bone in my palm and didn't go into the doctor's office for several hours, since I'd convinced myself it couldn't be broken. I could grip things, at least sortof, and I wasn't in nearly as much pain as I thought a broken bone ought to make. It showed up very clearly on an x-ray, though, and I ended up in a cast.

This is the sort of thing an urgent care is made for. Go in, wait a little while (much less than an ER) and get your arm x-rayed.
posted by lorimt at 10:04 AM on December 20, 2005


Have you got a tuning fork?

One kind of fracture that may be difficult to diagnose is a stress fracture. A stress fracture is a very small break in a bone that may not show up on an X ray. A stress fracture can sometimes be diagnosed with a tuning fork. A tuning fork is a metal instrument used in tuning musical instruments. It is placed on the skin over the bone in which a stress fracture is suspected. If the patient reports increased pain, a stress fracture may be present.

I concur a visit to the doctor is in order, however we did manage to diagnose broken bones before Ms Curie did her magic. I Nth suggesting the urgent care center. Using google with your zipcode and 'urgent care' turns up lots of stuff.
posted by phearlez at 10:59 AM on December 20, 2005


Make sure the x-ray film has DRIED completely before they read it, though. I know this sounds stupid but I have had three friends get sent home with "nope, everything looks fine" only to be called back within 48 hours with the diagnosis of a hairline fracture that didn't show up on the x-ray because the practitioner was in a hurry and read it too quickly. Very strange.
posted by jeanmari at 11:43 AM on December 20, 2005


Make sure the x-ray film has DRIED completely before they read it, though. I know this sounds stupid but I have had three friends get sent home with "nope, everything looks fine" only to be called back within 48 hours with the diagnosis of a hairline fracture that didn't show up on the x-ray because the practitioner was in a hurry and read it too quickly. Very strange.

I'm laughing at this because I just realized that a common practice we do must have patients thinking something totally erroneous and it's our fault. We frequently look at films right in the office, a so-called "wet-read", but then tell the patient, "If anything subtle is there that the radiologist finds after formally reading it I'll call you back in". So your friends were called back because the radiologist saw something the original doc didn't, which is quite common. It's not due to incomplete drying of the film.
posted by docpops at 12:12 PM on December 20, 2005


I broke my arm rollerblading -- knew it was broken, but it didn't turn up on the x-rays. Two weeks later, I could still feel extreme pain, but only in certain positions, as you describe. I couldn't change the gears on my car, barely lift my arm to the mousepad, or hold a glass, but it didn't hurt dreadfully if it was just immobile. I went back and asked for another x-ray, and sure enough, the radial head was broken. You know your body -- if it still feels off, something probably is.
posted by fionab at 8:30 PM on December 21, 2005


It's not due to incomplete drying of the film.

Good to know, especially since that is what each doctor or radiologist told my friends that it was! Maybe they didn't want to explain what really happens with reading x-rays or wanted to head off a confrontation about "why didn't you catch this when I was in the office?" Strange.
posted by jeanmari at 7:31 AM on December 23, 2005


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