Should I take my child to urgent care or the ER for a broken bone?

If you suspect your child has a broken bone, whether you should take them to an urgent care center or the emergency room can depend on the nature of the injury.

Norton Children’s Orthopedics of Louisville

Our team specializes in orthopedic care for children, providing care for any injuries to bones and muscles.

If you suspect your child has a broken bone, you may be wondering whether it is best to take them to an urgent care center or to the emergency room. It depends on the situation, and how severe the injury appears to be.

If your child experiences an acute injury, such as a severe sprain or broken bone, the sooner they can receive care, the better. Do not wait to make an appointment with a pediatrician; take the child to a facility where they can be seen right away. Pediatricians’ offices usually do not have the ability to properly care for a broken bone, including necessary equipment such as X-rays and tools for splinting an injury, so it’s important to take the child where they can get the right diagnosis and care.

Pediatricians usually will refer a patient to an immediate care center or emergency room as the first course of action for a child with a bone fracture. Within a few days, it is important to make a follow-up appointment with an orthopedic specialist. At Norton Children’s Orthopedics of Louisville, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, a pediatric orthopedic specialist can provide the proper treatment plan and monitor the child’s healing process.

Here are a few tips to help sort out whether you should take your child to an urgent care or the ER for a broken bone.

Urgent care or ER for a broken bone?

If at all possible, try not to move a patient with an obviously broken bone. If you are concerned that the injury is severe, call 911.

Immediate care center

Go to an immediate care center:

  • If there is severe pain or injury in the small bones of the hands, feet, wrists and ankles
  • If injuries are not life-threatening
  • If the child can put weight on their injured leg or move their injured arm

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

Emergency department

Go to a 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 have X-ray equipment and a team of specialists available on-site to provide a medical opinion and further treatment if necessary.

This article was reviewed by Daniel R. Bachman, M.D., pediatric orthopedic surgeon with Norton Children’s Orthopedics of Louisville.