Fractures (Broken Bones)
Fracture. Break. Crack. Hairline Crack.
These are all terms used to describe a fracture, which is in essence simply a broken bone. The terms are all interchangeable.
A bone may be completely fractured or partially fractured in any number of ways (crosswise, lengthwise, in multiple pieces).
Types of Fractures
Bones are pretty much rigid structures. Whilst they do bend or “give” a little bit when an outside force is applied, if the force is too great, then bones will break, just as a plastic ruler breaks when it is bent too far.
The severity of a fracture usually depends on the force that caused the break. If the bone’s breaking point has been exceeded only slightly, then the bone may crack rather than break all the way through. If the force applied to the bone is extreme, such as with external forces such as an automobile crash or a gunshot, the bone may shatter.
Occasionally the bone may break in such a way that parts of the bone stick out through the skin – this type of fracture is called an “open” fracture. This can be particularly serious because once the skin is broken, infection in both the wound and the bone can occur.
Common types of fractures include:
Stable fracture. The broken ends of the bone line up and are barely out of place.
Open or Compound fracture. The skin may be pierced by the bone or by a blow that breaks the skin at the time of the fracture. The bone may or may not be visible in the wound.
Transverse fracture. This type of fracture has a horizontal fracture line.
Oblique fracture. This type of fracture has an angled pattern.
Comminuted fracture. In this type of fracture, the bone shatters into three or more pieces.
Why Do Bones Break?
The most common causes of fractures are:
Trauma. A fall, a motor vehicle accident, or a tackle during a football game can all result in fractures.
Osteoporosis. This disorder weakens bones and makes them more likely to break.
Overuse. Repetitive motion can tire muscles and place more force on bone. This can result in stress fractures. Stress fractures are more common in athletes.
What Are The Symptoms Of A Fracture?
Most fractures are very painful and may prevent you from moving the injured area.
Other symptoms include:
Swelling and tenderness around the injury
Deformity — a limb may look “out of place” or a part of the bone may puncture through the skin
What Do I Do If I Get A Fracture?
Firstly, try to immobilise the area. This will try to reduce the pain you may be feeling from the broken bones rubbing on each other, and to prevent displacement of the bone ends from each other.
You need to see a doctor ASAP – who will do a careful examination to assess your overall condition, as well as the extent of the injury. He or she will talk with you about how the injury occurred, your symptoms, and medical history.
The most common way to evaluate a fracture is with x-rays, which provide clear images of bone. Your doctor will likely use an x-ray to verify the diagnosis. X-rays can show whether a bone is intact or broken. They can also show the type of fracture and exactly where it is located within the bone.
How Do You Treat A Fracture?
Whatever the type of fracture, the principles of treatment are all the same – the broken pieces must be put back into position and prevented from moving out of place until they are healed.
In many cases, the doctor will restore parts of a broken bone back to the original position. The technical term for this process is “reduction.”
Broken bone ends heal by “knitting” back together with new bone being formed around the edge of the broken parts.
Surgery is sometimes required to treat a fracture if the ends of the bone are displaced a long way, or if the bone is in a number of pieces.
The type of treatment required depends on the severity of the break, whether it is “open” or “closed,” and the specific bone involved. For example, a broken bone in the spine (vertebra) is treated differently from a broken leg bone or a broken hip.
Doctors use a variety of treatments to treat fractures:
A plaster or fiberglass cast is the most common type of fracture treatment, because most broken bones can heal successfully once they have been repositioned and a cast has been applied to keep the broken ends in proper position while they heal.
Functional Cast or Brace
The cast or brace allows limited or “controlled” movement of nearby joints. This treatment is desirable for some, but not all, fractures.
Traction is usually used to align a bone or bones by a gentle, steady pulling action.
In this type of operation, metal pins or screws are placed into the broken bone above and below the fracture site. The pins or screws are connected to a metal bar outside the skin. This device is a stabilizing frame that holds the bones in the proper position while they heal.
In cases where the skin and other soft tissues around the fracture are badly damaged, an external fixator may be applied until surgery can be tolerated.
Surgery – Open Reduction and Internal Fixation
During this operation, the bone fragments are first repositioned (reduced) in their normal alignment, and then held together with special screws or by attaching metal plates to the outer surface of the bone. The fragments may also be held together by inserting rods down through the marrow space in the center of the bone.
How Long Does A Fracture Take To Heal?
Fractures take several weeks to several months to heal, depending on the extent of the injury and how well you follow your doctor’s advice. Pain usually stops long before the fracture is solid enough to handle the stresses of normal activity. As a general rule, fractures take about 6 weeks to heal.
Even after your cast or brace is removed, you may need to continue limiting your movement until the bone is solid enough for normal activity.
During your recovery you will likely lose muscle strength in the injured area. Specific exercises will help you restore normal muscle strength, joint motion, and flexibility.
Your Leading Edge Physiotherapist can help guide you through the process of rehabilitation following a fracture.
Once your doctor says it is OK to remove your cast or splint, you should have your fracture assessed by a Leading Edge Physiotherapist to plan your rehabilitation.
If you are not sure if you need an assessment, you can ENTER YOUR DETAILS HERE and one of our physios will give you a call back to discuss your problem and work out the next step in your recovery.