Bone & Joint Injuries

How can I distinguish between bone, joint, and muscle injuries?

A Answers (2)

  • ASpencer Richards, MD, Sports Medicine, answered on behalf of Intermountain Healthcare

    Sometimes distinguishing can be very difficult. One factor is the type of injury, for example, a sudden twist where you feel a "pull" might suggest a muscle or a joint ligament or a fall onto a hand or wrist would be concerning for a bone injury. Another factor is the location of pain. Another factor is what the pain feels like--some joint injuries give a dull ache versus a muscle or bone injury might be more sharp. Swelling, bruising, redness, etc. are other clues. 

    Sometimes, it's just flat out tough to tell without seeing a sports medicine or orthopedic specialist for a checkup or testing (e.g. x-rays). We're always happy to help.

  • AKathleen Handal, MD, Emergency Medicine, answered
    Here's some information that should help you to tell the difference between bone, joint and muscle injuries and administer the first aid:

    • A rupture is a complete tearing of a ligament, tendon or muscle.
    • Bruises are swelling, pain and bleeding below the skin, resulting from a direct blow to the area. Discoloration from bleeding under skin can last for days and change colors with time.
    • Hematomas arise when large amounts of blood collect under the skin as a result of tissue damage.
    • With open fractures, the broken bone comes through the skin.
    • With closed fractures, the skin over the broken bone remains intact. An x-ray is needed to determine if a fracture has occurred.
    • Sprains and strains are ligament and tendon injuries that occur more often than fractures.
    • Sprains occur at joints from a twisting injury which causes ligament(s) to partially or completely tear or overstretch. An x-ray may be needed to determine if a fracture or sprain exists. Treat as a fracture until confirmed.
    • Strains are a tearing or overstretching of a muscle. They typically occur near where muscle tapers into a tendon and connects to a bone.
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