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Broken bones

Diagnosis of broken bones

In most cases, broken bones are diagnosed through x-ray imaging. In rare cases, your doctor might instead use CT or MRI imaging to get a better picture of your injury.

An x-ray alone is usually enough to show your doctor whether you have a broken bone, where it is, and the type of fracture.


The main goal of treating any broken bone is the same: put the pieces back into position and keep them there while the bone heals. For some fractures, this is a simple process. For other fractures, surgery is necessary.

Emergency providers at Dignity Health offer these treatments for broken bones:

  • Cast immobilization: A fiberglass or plaster cast is the most common treatment.
  • External fixation: a surgery to place metal screws or pins in the pieces of bone. The screws or pins connect to a metal bar placed on the outside of the skin. This fixation system holds the pieces of bone in place during the healing process.
  • Open reduction and internal fixation: a surgery to reposition the bone pieces and hold them together with metal screws, pins, or plates on the surface of the bone. This surgical hardware may or may not need to be removed once healing is complete.
  • Traction: repositions bone pieces using a gentle pulling action.

For fractures that involve major joints, such as the shoulder or hip, joint replacement may be part of your treatment plan.


Recovery time from a fracture depends on a variety of factors, including:

  • Your age
  • Your bone density and bone health
  • The location of the break
  • How well you can keep the bones from moving and bearing weight
  • The severity or complexity of the break
  • Whether surgery is required

Many breaks heal in six to eight weeks. As your healing progresses, your doctor may order repeat x-ray scans to verify that the bones are healing properly. You may also need to begin physical therapy or other rehabilitation programs to regain strength in the injured area.

Dignity Health provides expert and efficient emergency broken bone treatment. Find a Doctor or using our ER online tool.

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.

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