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Fractures (broken bones): Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About fractures (broken bones)

Any break in the continuity of the bone is called a fracture. A fracture can be of many types. It can be complete wherein the bone gets broken across completely in two or more pieces. Alternatively the fracture can be an incomplete break or simply a crack, where it is termed as ‘hairline fracture’. Furthermore, a fracture can result from prolonged overuse of a particular bone in which case it is termed as ‘stress fracture’.

Fractures (broken bones): Incidence, age and sex

Fracture of the bone is the most common orthopaedic problem encountered in the general population. It may be seen in an individual at any age but post-menopausal woman have higher chances of such occurrence.

Signs and symptoms of fractures (broken bones): Diagnosis

Any kind of a fracture is accompanied with a history of physical trauma which in most instances is acute but can be prolonged or longstanding in occasional cases. The most common presentation of a fracture is pain that may exacerbate on touch. The pain may be associated with swelling or bruise at the fracture site. The affected bone may show limitation of movement. Rarely, when a broken or fractured bone pierces the adjoining skin, bleeding may occur.

The orthopaedic surgeon on physical evaluation, may find some deformity of the affected limb like unusual physical appearance or misshapen limb. Imaging diagnostic tests like x-ray, CT or MRI scans are usually advised to establish the diagnosis.

Causes and prevention of fractures (broken bones)

The most common cause of fractures is physical trauma like motor vehicular accidents, fall from height and physical fighting. Sport activities like skiing, skating, football and gymnastics carry increased risk of fracture. Moreover, repeated overuse of certain parts of body may also result in fracture of the affected bone. The bones of post menopausal women become weak and thin due to hormonal changes resulting in increased chances of fractures even during minor physical trauma. Similarly certain diseases which result in reduced amounts of vitamin D and calcium in the body may also increase the risk of fractures.

Fractures may be prevented by a diet high in calcium and vitamin D which help in building of bones. Its demand is excessively augmented in post-menopausal women. In addition, muscle strengthening exercises help in providing good support and stability to the bones and the joints. It is always advisable to wear protective gear during certain sports which may be physically quite challenging. Older adults can try wearing anti-skid footwear to avoid falls.

Fractures (broken bones): Complications

Most of the fractures heal completely without resulting in complications. However the ‘open fracture’ has a high chance of getting infected due to piercing of the bone through the skin. Such infections may affect the involved bone and surrounding soft tissue and termed as osteomyelitis. Complications may happen even after the correction of the fracture. Such complications include life-long arthritis or deformity of the affected joint which results from mal-alignment of the fractured bones.

Fractures (broken bones): Treatment

The goal of treatment is to minimise pain and swelling along with alignment of bones together in a proper position. Cold compress and painkillers may help in reducing pain and swelling. Immobilization of the affected bone or the joint is essential for good healing of fracture which can be done by splinting or applying cast. Sometimes surgical intervention is essential to repair the fracture. Aligning the fractured bones with screws or rods or metal plate are some of the surgical modalities which are used in surgical practice. The healing process may vary from a few weeks to a couple of months depending upon the site and type of fracture. Adequate antibiotic cover is needed if the fractured bone pierces through the skin, to avoid infections. It is recommended to keep the affected limb elevated to prevent swelling and speed up the healing process.