Broken Bone (Types of Bone Fractures)

  • Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Editor: Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP
    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.

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What about surgery for a broken bone?

The decision to operate on a fracture depends upon the type of fracture, whether it can heal in good alignment on its own, and whether other potential complications exist.

Sometimes patients are taken to the operating room for a closed reduction (resetting of the bone) and splinting of the fracture. When a fracture is markedly displaced and misaligned, it may be too painful to move or manipulated the bone without an anesthetic.

If it appears that the fracture is unstable and cannot be held in place and in good alignment with just a splint or cast, an open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) may be needed. An incision is made so that the bony pieces can be identified and aligned. Metal plates and screws, wires or rods may be used to stabilize the fracture. The hardware may be left in place forever or it may be there only temporarily until the fracture heals. Hip fractures almost always require ORIF to allow the patient to heal and regain the ability to walk.

Surgery may be required in situations where there is associated injury to arteries and nerves and they need to be repaired or decompressed.

Open fractures often have to go to the operating room to be washed out to prevent infection of the bone (osteomyelitis).

How can fractures be prevented?

Many broken bones occur because of accidents in the home, at work or at play, and not all may be preventable. Using proper safety equipment and precautions may minimize the risk of injury, but it cannot be completely eliminated.

As we age, there is an increased risk for falls at homes and some preventive steps may help reduce fall risks. These include:

  • Make certain that lighting is adequate
  • Shoes should not be slippery
  • Loose rugs or uneven floors should be repaired
  • High traffic areas like from the bed to the bath or from the kitchen to the living area need to be clear from hazards like excess furniture, extension cords, or boxes
  • Bathrooms should have nonslip mats on the floor and in the bathtub or shower
  • Install handrails for stairs and grab bars in the bathroom

Bones also get old as we age and the management of osteoporosis is a life-long commitment. Increasing calcium content in bone will decrease the risk of spontaneous fracture, and also may make bone strong enough to potentially withstand an injury that otherwise would result in a fracture. Ways to prevent osteoporosis include:

  • Increase weight bearing exercise
  • Make sure you are getting the right amount of calcium and Vitamin D in the diet. Take supplements if necessary.
  • Do not smoke
  • Avoid excess alcohol intake
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/19/2015
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