ER vs. urgent care for broken bones | Norton Healthcare Louisville, Ky.

Should I go to the ER or urgent care for a broken bone?

You might not need to visit the hospital for a minor break.

If you think you have a broken bone, should you go to an emergency room (ER) or an Immediate Care Center? Sometimes it can be hard to decide. Here are some things to consider.

What is a bone fracture?

A bone fracture is a medical condition that changes the contour or shape of the bone. Fractures can happen in any bone in the body. We typically say a bone is “broken” when referring to a variety of situations, including cracks, crushing and spiral fractures. Bone fractures can occur because of:

  • High force impact or stress (car accidents, falls, and so on)
  • Osteoporosis
  • Some cancers
  • Other medical conditions such as brittle bone disease (osteogenesis imperfecta)

Symptoms of a bone fracture

Signs of a bone fracture can range widely depending on which bone is affected, severity of the fracture, and the patient’s age and general health. Most fractures include the following:

  • Pain
  • Swelling or tenderness
  • Bruising or discoloration of the skin around the area
  • The affected area may be bent at an unusual angle.
  • The patient is unable to put weight on or apply pressure to the affected area.

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To find the Norton Immediate Care Center nearest you and reserve your spot online, visit NortonHealthcare.com/ICC or call

(502) 629-4444

You also may view all your care options for visiting with a provider virtually or in person for minor illnesses and injuries at NortonNow.com.

Other symptoms, especially if the fracture is in a bone such as the pelvis or femur, may include:

  • Pale, clammy skin
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea

What to do if you think you have a broken bone

If at all possible, try not to move a patient with an obviously broken bone. For instance, if there has been an accident, perform first aid and call 911.

If a ride to a care facility is not available, call 911.

Immediate care center

Go to an immediate care center:

  • If you have severe pain or injury in the small bones of the hands, feet, wrists, and ankles
  • If you do not have life-threatening injuries

All Norton Immediate Care Centers have on-site X-ray capability. A Norton Immediate Care provider will review your images, stabilize the injury and provide a referral if needed.

Emergency department

Go to the hospital emergency department if:

  • The potential break is in the head, neck or torso, or the long bones of the arms or legs.
  • Heavy bleeding is present.
  • The area is misaligned or deformed.
  • The break restricts blood flow.
  • The bone is pushing out of the skin.
  • The patient is unable to move the fingers if the injury is in the arm, or toes if the injury is in the leg.

Emergency Departments will also be able to X-ray the injured area and have a team of specialists available to provide a medical opinion and further treatment if necessary.


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