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A fracture occurs when there is a break in the bone. It is an injury that can be caused by a fall, accident or other physical trauma. Children and the elderly are two groups that are more prone to getting a fracture. While not usually a life-threatening injury, a fracture needs to be treated by a medical professional and may even require surgery if the damage is severe. A fracture can be of two types: 

  • Open fracture: An open fracture occurs when the broken bone tears through the surrounding skin tissue. This is also known as a compound fracture and is a more serious injury.
  • Closed fracture: A closed fracture is when the broken bone has not pierced through the skin tissue.
  1. Recognising a fracture
  2. First aid for fractured bones
  3. Complications of fractures
  4. Things to keep in mind after a fracture

Knowing what the signs and symptoms of a fracture are can help you assess the situation and manage immediate care better. Following are a few that may be experienced after a break in a bone: 

  • Hearing a snapping sound at the time of the fall or accident
  • Extreme pain at the site, which may worsen with movement
  • Numbness or swelling at the site
  • Heavy bleeding in case of open fractures
  • The broken bone protruding through the skin
  • Bluish colour of skin at or immediately around the site
  • Warmth, redness or bruising at the site of the injury
  • The inability of the injured part of the body to bear any weight

Since a fracture is usually a result of an accident or fall, it may be accompanied by other injuries as well. The bone that is suspected of being fractured may also dictate whether you should move at all or not.

  • CPR: Check if the person is conscious. If they’re not breathing or they don’t have a heartbeat, perform CPR if you know how to. 
  • Bleeding: Use a sterile bandage or a clean piece of cloth to apply pressure on the wound to stop bleeding.
  • Stabilize: Avoid movement if possible, especially if the fracture is suspected in the neck, back or head. In such cases, call emergency services and make sure the person is in a stable position and not in danger of further injury. In other fractures, make sure they do not try and realign the fracture themselves and transport them to a hospital. If you’ve been trained in making a sling or splint to immobilize the affected area, do so with their permission.
  • Cold compress: Use ice packs to manage the swelling, numb the area and alleviate some of the pain.
  • Shock: The trauma of a major injury can make the person go into shock. Make them comfortable and reassure them to prevent this. If they feel faint, provide support and encourage them to lie down (if possible) with their legs elevated.

Severe complications often depend on the specific location of the fracture. For example: 

  • Rib fractures could lead to a collapsed lung, compromising your ability to breath
  • Fractures near arteries could damage the vascular system and prove to be life-threatening
  • Pelvic or spinal fractures in the elderly could result in loss of mobility, increase the risk of pneumonia, thromboembolic disease or rhabdomyolysis

Other complications, associated with the healing process, are: 

  • Infection: At the time of the break and in the time following it, microorganisms can be introduced into the wound (blood or bone) in the case of open fractures. This could lead to infection, which would require antibiotic treatment.
  • Delayed union or nonunion: When a fracture takes longer than normal to heal, it is known as a delayed union. Similarly, when it fails to heal, it can be known as nonunion. Bone grafting may be required in such cases.
  • Deformities: Fractures that haven’t been set properly or bones that are misaligned may heal in the abnormal position and cause a deformity. Fixators like screws or rods may need to be attached to the bone to stabilize it.

Bones can take six to eight week to heal and this time can increase or decrease depending on many factors like age, diet, underlying medical conditions and overall health status. Following are a few things you should keep in mind while recovering from the fracture: 

  • Cast care: Commonly, the fracture may be encased in a cast for it to heal properly. Follow all the instructions given regarding caring for the cast and keep it clean to avoid infection. You’ll need to keep it dry, which may be achieved by wrapping it in plastic when you bathe.
  • New symptoms: If you start to experience any new symptoms, like a rash appearing or a foul odour coming from the injury, you should reach out to your doctor in case they point to an infection. Additionally, make sure that the symptoms you’re already experiencing, attributed to the fracture, do not become more severe. Consult with your doctor in case that happens.
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