Question

Bone & Joint Injuries

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

A Answers (2)

  • A Dr Spencer 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.

  • A Dr. Kathleen 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.
Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.
Did You See?  Close
What are symptoms of a meniscal tear?