A bone bruise, also known as a bone contusion, can be an extremely painful injury. A bruised bone will usually cause more discomfort than a regular bruise. It can also be particularly troublesome if it occurs in your foot, making it hard to walk or even stand without substantial pain.
Here’s some information on how this type of injury occurs, when you need to get to a doctor, and some of the ways this problem is usually addressed.
What is a Bone Bruise?
Your bones are made up of fibers that contain calcium – a mineral that helps to keep them strong.1 A bone bruise might sound relatively minor, but it is actually one step below a fracture. When a bruised bone occurs, some of the fibers may break. If enough of the fibers break, a broken bone could result.2
How is a Bone Bruise Different from a Regular Bruise?
There are a few ways in which a bone bruise will be different from a regular bruise.
- A deep bone bruise can lead to significant pain that lasts for weeks, or even longer.3
- A bruised bone may cause swelling, in addition to a large area of discoloration (larger than the average bruise).4
A bruised bone, involving your feet or any other areas, can also cause other symptoms, including:
- A limited range of motion that can make even the most basic tasks, such as putting on a shirt, very difficult.
- Stiffness in the affected area.
- Difficulty standing and walking.
- Swelling of the toes may also occur.5
While a bone bruise can often be mistaken for a fracture, there are some major differences. For example, a fracture usually leads to sharp pain. The pain of a bruised bone, on the other hand, is usually duller and deeper. A broken bone may also cause instability in your foot, or other affected area, and will often be accompanied by a visible deformity.6
There are a few factors that will increase your risk of a bone bruise. If you play a lot of contact sports, you might have a higher chance of having to deal with this type of injury. If you engage in physical activities that are hard on your feet, such as running, your risk might be higher as well. People who are on their feet all day at a physically demanding job may also be more susceptible.7
Addressing a Bruised Bone at Home
1. Ice it Down
If you have suffered a bone bruise, apply an ice pack as soon as possible. Wrap some ice in a towel, or you could simply use a bag of frozen peas or some other vegetable. Apply it to the painful area for about 10-15 minutes, every three or four hours. Do this for two to three days, or until the swelling goes away.8
2. Try Heat
Once the swelling goes away, heat therapy might help speed healing and increase your range of motion. Put a towel on the affected area and then place a hot pack (you should be able to find one at your nearest drug store) over the towel. Apply the heat for about 20 minutes, two or three times a day for about four days.9
Whether your bone bruise affects a foot (or both feet) or any other lower extremity, elevation can help reduce swelling. Lie down, and keep the injured area above your heart.10 Over-the-counter medications might help reduce your discomfort.
When to See a Doctor
If you don’t see improvement after three or four days, it may be time to visit your doctor. If you’ve suffered a bone bruise in your foot or leg, get medical help if you have problems standing or walking.11
There is also the possibility that a bruised bone in your foot, or in another part of your body, could be the start of more serious issues. For example, this type of injury can sometimes damage the cartilage that covers the bone.12 There is also research that suggests a bruised bone could speed the development of osteoarthritis in the area of the injury.13
Your doctor may perform an MRI test in order to diagnose a bruised bone. This will show the amount of damage that has occurred, and will also show any swelling or bleeding that may be taking place. An x-ray may also be used in order to rule out any type of fracture.14
Once your doctor knows the extent of the injury, they can determine the best course of action. For example, your doctor may recommend that you use crutches, or a brace, if you’ve hurt your foot. This will keep weight off of your foot and help promote faster healing.15
Wrapping it Up
The bottom line is that you should never ignore a bone bruise. Talk to a doctor to reduce the chances you may suffer even worse side effects in the long term.