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

Exclusion of liability

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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