What Is Fracture Treatment?
Fractures are broken bones. There is no difference between a break and a fracture—they are two terms for the same condition.
There are a number of different types, but they have features in common. Fracture care means creating an environment in which the broken bone can heal itself. This can be accomplished in a number of different ways, depending upon the location and severity of the fracture.
Common Reasons for Fracture Treatment
Fractures are usually caused by high-energy trauma events such as car crashes, or low-energy trauma events like falls or sports injuries. Some people, such as those with osteoporosis, are more prone to fracture than others.
More information about specific fractures can be found on the following pages:
- Foot and ankle fractures
- Hip fractures
- Patella fractures
- Shoulder and clavicle fractures
- Tibia and fibula fractures
- Wrist fractures
Candidates for Fracture Treatment
Given enough time, most fractures will heal on their own, but the broken bone may heal poorly or in a way that can cause deformity and disability unless the person with the fracture seeks medical care. For this reason, anyone with a fracture is a candidate for fracture care.
Most fractures require some degree of immobilization in order for the bone to heal correctly. This can be accomplished in a number of ways. Often, the first step to immobilizing the bone is lining up the two broken ends, a process known as reduction.
There are three classes of immobilization techniques:
- Nonsurgical immobilization encompasses techniques such as cast application. This type of immobilization does not require surgery, but can be less precise than other types of immobilization and is not suitable for all types of fractures. Some stable fractures can be treated with a removable brace. A brace can keep the fractured bone in proper alignment, reduce pain and swelling and in some cases allow for earlier weight bearing and other activities.
- Internal fixation is the use of plates, screws, rods or wires to hold bones together. It requires surgery to insert the hardware.
- External fixation means putting screws and rods into the fractured bone and connecting them to a frame outside the skin. This method also requires surgery.
When a fracture happens, a blood clot and a callus—a collection of cells that migrate to the fracture site and add strength and structure—form around it. New threads of bone on each side of the fracture line begin growing towards each other. Eventually the callus is absorbed.
However, if the fractured parts of the bone are badly misaligned, it will heal incorrectly (malunion). In other cases–for example, if the bone’s blood supply is damaged, there is an infection or the bone moves too much during the healing process–the bone won’t heal at all (nonunion). That’s why it’s so important to get medical care after a fracture.
Depending on the severity and the location of the fracture and the age and overall health of the patient, it may take several weeks to several months to heal. After the immobilization device is removed it may still be necessary to protect the injured bone by avoiding strenuous activity, and a long period of restricted activity may be necessary after normal fracture healing. There may be muscle weakness and a loss of range of motion, so physical therapy can be helpful in regaining both.
Fixation and nonsurgical immobilization hold the fractured bone in proper alignment, but healing also depends on good health and nutrition. Make sure to get enough calcium and vitamin D, as well as vitamin C and zinc. Smoking slows fracture healing and increases the chance of the bone not healing (called nonunion), so it’s important to eliminate or at least minimize smoking during the healing process. People with diabetes need to control their blood sugar to promote faster healing and minimize the risk of complications like infection.
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