Bone fracture

If more pressure is put on a bone than its stability allows, it will break in one or more places. This causes severe pain and swelling, and sometimes a misalignment is visible.

Overview

If more pressure is put on a bone than its stability allows, it will break in one or more places. This causes severe pain and swelling, and sometimes a misalignment is visible. For such injuries, the limb must be splinted, immobilised and cooled, and a doctor must be consulted immediately.

Symptoms

Main symptoms

  • Pain, swelling and bruising (haematoma)
  • Limited movement of the affected limb
  • Misalignment or abnormal position of the bone (e.g. twisted, torsioned, shortened)
  • Loss of stability and unnatural mobility

Other symptoms

  • Injury to neighbouring structures
  • Blood vessels: heavy bleeding
  • Nerves: sensory disturbances, paralysis
  • Organs: depending on the organ, e.g. shortness of breath if a rib punctures the lung
  • Circulatory collapse (due to severe blood loss following fractures of large bones such as the pelvis or femur)
  • Fat embolism: when a fracture occurs, fat tissue from the bone can be released into the bloodstream and block a blood vessel, e.g. in a lung or the brain
  • Risk of infection if open fracture

Causes and treatment

Causes

  • Receiving a blow, falling, twisting (accident)
  • Pathologic fracture: bone weakened by osteoporosis can break during normal everyday activities
  • Fatigue fracture: overuse injury caused by repetitive stress in the same place (e.g. march fracture of metatarsal bones suffered by untrained military recruits)

Further treatment by your doctor / in hospital

Possible tests
  • X-ray
  • CT scan (computed tomography)
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
Possible therapies
  • Painkillers
  • Immobilisation (e.g. plaster cast or splint)
  • Operation (e.g. plates attached with screws to hold the broken bones together)

What can I do myself?

  • Try to move the fractured area as little as possible, stabilise and immobilise the injured limb
  • Cooling
  • Don't move if injury to the spine is suspected (except to get away from a danger zone)

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When to see a doctor?

  • Severe pain
  • Severe swelling
  • Big bruise (haematoma)
  • If bones are abnormally positioned or abnormally mobile
  • Injuries with open wounds, parts of the bone may be visible

Synonyms

Bone fracture, fractre

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CSS offers no guarantee for the accuracy and completeness of the information. The information published is no substitute for professional advice from a doctor or pharmacist.

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