Ouch! Why Broken Bones Hurt and How to Alleviate the Discomfort

Close up image of a broken forearm in a fiberglass cast
Sajee_Rd - canva.com
Medically reviewed by
Written by

Broken bones are a common injury that can be painful and debilitating. Whether it's a simple fracture or a more complex break, the pain associated with a broken bone can be intense and long-lasting. 

But why do broken bones hurt? Understanding the underlying causes of bone pain is important for both patients and medical professionals alike. 

In this blog post, we'll take a deep dive into the topic of broken bones and explore what causes them to hurt. We'll also cover some of the most effective ways to manage pain and promote healing.

Anatomy of Bones

xray of a hand
luyag - canva.com

Bones are a crucial part of our body's anatomy, providing support and protection to our internal organs and tissues. Understanding the basic structure of bones is important in comprehending how they function, how they heal, and why they can be painful when broken.

The Basic Structure of Bones

Bones are made up of several different layers, including the periosteum, compact bone, and spongy bone. 

Periosteum: This is a thin layer of connective tissue that covers the outer surface of the bone. It provides a site for the attachment of muscles, tendons, and ligaments, and contains blood vessels and nerves that supply the bone with nutrients and oxygen.

Compact bone tissue: This is the hard and dense layer that makes up the majority of the bone's outer structure and consists of tightly packed layers of mineralized bone cells called osteons.

Spongy bone tissue: This is a more porous layer that is found inside the bone, and it contains bone marrow and blood vessels. It has a lattice-like structure that helps to absorb shock and distribute forces more evenly across the bone. 

The Role of Nerves in Bones

Nerves play a critical role in the function of bones. They transmit signals between the brain and the bones, allowing us to sense changes in pressure, temperature, and other factors. When a bone is damaged, the nerves in the periosteum and surrounding tissues can become irritated, leading to pain.

How Bones Heal

Bones have an incredible ability to heal themselves after injury. The process of bone healing involves several stages, starting with the formation of a blood clot at the site of the injury. 

This clot acts as a foundation for new bone tissue to develop, and as the new bone tissue grows, it gradually replaces the blood clot, forming a callus. 

This callus acts as a bridge between the two ends of the broken bone. Over time, the callus will become stronger and more stable, allowing the bone to restore its original strength and shape. 

Learn more: 7 Reasons Your Broken Bone Is Not Healing

Types of Bone Fractures

When a bone breaks, there are many different types of fractures that can occur. Some common types of bone fractures include:

  • Simple fracture: This is when a bone breaks cleanly into two pieces.
  • Compound fracture: In this type of fracture, the broken bone pierces through the skin, leading to an open wound.
  • Comminuted fracture: This type of fracture occurs when the bone shatters into multiple pieces.
  • Greenstick fracture: This is a partial fracture in which the bone only breaks on one side.
  • Stress fracture: This type of fracture occurs due to repeated stress on the bone, rather than a sudden injury.

The type of fracture will determine the severity of the injury and the best course of treatment.

Why Broken Bones Hurt

Close up image of a man with a painful wrist
Tharakorn aunothai - canva.com

Pain is a complex phenomenon that can be influenced by a variety of factors. When a bone breaks, it can cause damage to the surrounding tissues, including muscles, tendons, and ligaments. This can lead to swelling, bruising, and inflammation, which can all contribute to pain. In addition, broken bones can cause nerve damage, which can lead to tingling, numbness, and other sensations.

The body's response to a broken bone can also contribute to pain. When a bone is damaged, the body will release chemicals called cytokines, which can cause inflammation and swelling. This can put pressure on the nerves in the surrounding tissues, leading to pain.

If left untreated, a broken bone can also cause long-term complications, such as arthritis, chronic pain, and limited mobility.

The Different Types of Pain Associated with Broken Bones

There are several different types of pain that can be associated with a broken bone:

  • Acute pain: This is the immediate pain that is felt at the time of the injury.
  • Inflammatory pain: This type of pain occurs when the body's immune system responds to the injury, causing inflammation in the affected area.
  • Neuropathic pain: This type of pain is caused by damage to the nerves in the affected area.
  • Chronic pain: In some cases, pain can persist long after the broken bone has healed. This is known as chronic pain.

The type and severity of pain can vary depending on the location and type of fracture, as well as the individual's pain tolerance.

Managing Pain from Broken Bones

Dealing with pain from a broken bone can be challenging, but there are several treatment options available. Some of the most common treatments for pain associated with broken bones include:

  • Rest: Resting the affected area can help reduce pain and promote healing.
  • Ice and heat therapy: Applying ice to the affected area can help reduce inflammation and swelling, while applying heat can help relax muscles and relieve pain.
  • Physical therapy: Depending on the severity of the fracture, physical therapy may be recommended to help restore function and reduce pain.
  • Braces or splints: Braces or splints can help immobilize the affected area, which can reduce pain and promote healing.
  • Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be necessary to repair a broken bone. This can be an effective way to manage pain and promote healing.

Learn More: Can My Broken Bone Heal Without a Cast?

Medications Used for Pain Management

In addition to non-pharmacological treatments, medications can also be used to manage pain associated with broken bones. Some of the most commonly used medications include:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Prescription pain medications: If over-the-counter pain relievers are not effective, a doctor may prescribe stronger pain medications, such as opioids.
  • Nerve blockers: In some cases, a nerve block may be used to temporarily relieve pain. This involves injecting a local anesthetic into the affected area to block pain signals.

Why Do Broken Bones Hurt—Frequently Asked Questions 

Close up image of wrapped forearms for broken bones
Guitafotostudio - stock.adobe

When Does a Broken Bone Stop Hurting?

The duration of pain associated with a broken bone varies depending on several factors such as the location and severity of the fracture, age, and overall health of the individual. In general, the pain may gradually decrease over time as the bone heals and inflammation subsides. However, it's important to note that the healing process can take several weeks to months, and pain may persist during this time.

Do Broken Bones Hurt More as They Heal?

It's not common for broken bones to hurt more as they heal. In fact, as the bone heals, the pain usually decreases gradually over time. This is because the body's natural healing processes, including the formation of new bone tissue and the resolution of inflammation, help to reduce pain and promote healing.

However, it's possible to experience some discomfort during the healing process, especially if there is a complication such as delayed healing, infection, or nerve damage. In some cases, pain may also occur as a result of physical therapy or rehabilitation exercises aimed at improving range of motion and strength.

Learn More: How Long Does it Take A Broken Bone to Heal? 

What Bone Break Hurts the Most?

Generally speaking, fractures in weight-bearing bones such as the femur (thigh bone) or the tibia (shin bone) can be particularly painful. This is because these bones are responsible for supporting much of the body's weight, which can increase the pressure and stress on the fractured area. Additionally, fractures in the rib cage or the spine can also be extremely painful due to the potential damage to surrounding nerves and soft tissues.

Why Does a Broken Bone Hurt More at Night?

It's common for broken bones to hurt more at night due to several factors. One reason is that during the day, distractions such as work, social activities, and movement can help to reduce the perception of pain. However, at night, when the body is at rest and there are fewer distractions, the pain may become more noticeable and intense.

Additionally, changes in blood flow can also contribute to nighttime pain. When lying down, blood may accumulate in the affected area, causing increased pressure and swelling, which can exacerbate pain.

Learn More: How to Sleep Comfortably with a Broken Arm

How Cast21 Alternative is Revolutionizing the Healing Process

Nurse checking patients Cast21

Traditional plaster casts are known for their discomfort, long drying times, and inability to get wet. Cast21 Alternative, on the other hand, provides a lightweight lattice sleeve that is not only strong but also comfortable, mitigating much of the discomfort typically associated with traditional casts. 

The quick-drying formula used to create the Cast21 sleeve means that patients aren't stuck waiting for the cast to dry, providing much-needed relief for those with busy schedules. 

Additionally, Cast21's waterproof nature provides peace of mind when showering or bathing, eliminating the worry of getting the cast wet. Overall, Cast21 has revolutionized the healing process of broken bones by providing unparalleled comfort and convenience. 

If you're interested in learning more about Cast21 or if it's an appropriate part of your treatment plan, contact your local doctor or reach out to us to find a clinic in your area that offers our innovative product.


Zhao, Y., Zhang, H., Li, N., Li, J., & Zhang, L. (2022). Chronic pain after bone fracture: Current insights into molecular mechanisms and therapeutic strategies. [Abstract]. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 16, 841. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9406150/

Related Blog Posts

A man with a blue waterproof cast cover on his forearm is shown in the shower, with water droplets visible, indicating the cast cover is protecting his cast while bathing.

What Happens if a Cast Gets Wet Inside?

December 15, 2023

A close-up of a person's forearm and hand giving a thumbs-up gesture. The hand and a significant portion of the forearm are covered in a white, neatly applied cast, indicating a wrist fracture. The background is a neutral, solid color.

Serial Casting: What It Is & How It Helps Muscular Conditions

November 14, 2023

Young athlete playing soccer on the field

Can My Child Play Sports with a Cast?

October 29, 2023