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First Aid: Sprains and Fractures

A sprain happens when the ligaments, or fibrous tissue, connecting bones at a joint pulls or tears. Most sprains hurt, and some take even longer than a broken bone to heal. A fracture may happen when a bone is hit with more force than it can bear.

If a bad sprain or a fracture occurs and you can’t get first-aid supplies, make do with what’s on hand and immediately call for help:

  • A broken leg can be splinted to the good leg. You can also use a rolled-up towel as a splint.

  • Immobilize an injured arm by cradling it in a sling. Fold a bandana or scarf into a triangle and tie it behind the neck. Or, the bottom of a shirt can be safely pinned up to the top of a shirt, creating a makeshift sling.

1. Control any bleeding

Here are two ways to control bleeding:

  • Apply direct pressure to the source of bleeding with gauze or a cloth to stop bleeding.

  • If a bone has broken through the skin, cover the wound with loosely wrapped gauze or cloth. DON’T increase damage by pressing directly on the bone or pushing it back into place.

2. Immobilize the injury

Do's and don'ts for not moving the injury:

  • Place a rigid material (splint) next to the injury, and tie or tape it in place. Secure the splint above and below the injury.

  • DON’T increase damage by straightening an injury.

  • DON’T secure the splint too tight. If toes or fingers become pale, cold, or numb, loosen the splint immediately.

3. Ice and elevate

Tips to ice and raise the injury: 

  • Place ice or a cold pack on the injury for 20 minutes every 3 to 4 hours to limit swelling and pain. Use a barrier, like a thin towel, between the ice or cold pack and the skin to prevent cold injury to the skin.

  • Raise the injury above the heart, if possible, to reduce swelling.

Seek medical help if any of the following is true:

  • The injury has forced a joint beyond its normal range of motion and now the joint won’t work.

  • A strong force, such as a fall, placed great stress on a bone or joint, especially if a snap was heard.

  • The joint or limb looks crooked or bowed.

  • You have reason to believe a bone is broken.

  • You have numbness, tingling or a pale, cool limb. 

Call 911 right away if the victim has decreased feeling or movement in the arms or legs, or if the victim has pain in the neck or back (possible a spinal cord injury).

  1. Keep the victim’s head, neck, and back exactly as you found them. Place heavy objects around the body or hold the head still with your hands.

  2. Move the victim only to save his or her life. Lift the body as one unit, supporting head, midsection, and legs. DON’T straighten the victim, elevate the legs, or tip the head in any direction.

Online Medical Reviewer: Joseph, Thomas N., MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Sather, Rita, RN
Last Review Date: 9/29/2015
© 2000-2015 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.