Symptoms and Signs of Fractures or Dislocations

Medical Author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
Medically Reviewed on 10/18/2021

Doctor's Notes on Fractures or Dislocations

A bone fracture describes a crack, or a partial or complete break in the bone. Compound fractures or open fractures (fractures that result in bone fragments that penetrate the surface of the skin) can be dangerous and can block blood flow to an affected limb. A dislocation occurs when 2 bones are out of place at the joint that connects them. A dislocation may also cause injury to nerves and blood vessels.

Symptoms of fractures or dislocations are similar and may include

  • tenderness,
  • swelling,
  • deformity, and
  • discoloration.

Depending on the severity or location of the fracture or dislocation, a person may be unable to move a limb or joint. A loss of sensation below the fracture or dislocation may occur and can indicate possible nerve damage and/or blood vessel injury. If a fractured bone pierces the skin (a compound or open fracture) bleeding can occur. 

What Is the Treatment for Fractures or Dislocations?

A person with a possible fracture or dislocation should seek medical care immediately. Some cases of a dislocation need to be placed back into normal position (reduced) as soon as possible to avoid long-term complications.

  • First aid for fractures or dislocations includes:
  • Apply a cold pack to the area of fracture or dislocation to decrease swelling and pain
  • If there are any open wounds, flush with water and cover them with a dry dressing
  • Splint the injured area to keep it from moving and keep the injured joint immobilized
  • Pain may be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil)
  • Check the extremity for signs of loss of nerve or vascular function such as:
    • Cold finger or toes
    • Loss of sensation to the extremity
    • Blue or purple color to the extremity

Once a patient is evaluated by a medical provider, the fracture or dislocation may be put back into normal alignment (reduced). This may be done with pain medication or sedation given to the patient first. Some fractures or dislocations may require surgery to fix properly.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.