Healing Broken Bones
Skeletal fractures come in all shapes and sizes – including medical emergencies. Learn more about broken bones, and how Baptist Health can help you heal.
What Is a Broken Bone?
A broken bone or fracture is defined as a change in the bone’s shape, usually due to the impact of an external force stronger than the bone itself. Causes include accidents, falls, and athletic injuries. Osteoporosis, a decrease in bone strength with age, can also play a role. Broken bones are common; according to the Cleveland Clinic, more than one million occur annually in the U.S.
There are several different types of fractures:
- Closed or open fractures, depending on whether the fractured bone breaks the skin
- Displaced fractures, meaning that there is a space between the bones that wasn’t there before
- Partial or complete fractures, depending on whether the fracture breaks the bone into more than one piece
- Stress or hairline fractures, which are cracks in the bone’s surface.
How Do I Know If I Have a Broken Bone?
Fractures have a wide range of symptoms, depending on severity and bodily location. Common symptoms are pain, swelling, bruises, stiffness, tenderness, weakness, decline or loss of function, and, on occasion, a visible deformity. If these symptoms occur in an area of the body that was recently subjected to a hard impact, it may indicate a broken bone.
The adult human body contains 206 bones, and fractures can occur at almost any point in the skeleton. Sites where breaks are frequent include the arm, wrist, ankle, hip, and clavicle or collarbone.
How Does a Bone Heal?
The good news about bone breaks is that your body already knows the healing process. In fact, by the time you realize you have a fracture, the repair process will have started. A blood clot and callus form around the break to protect it during healing. Threads of bone start to grow toward each other through the blood clot. Given adequate time, the threads will knit the bone back together.
At Baptist Health, our role is to support the body during the healing process. Medical procedures are geared toward creating an optimal outcome by reducing the risk of misalignment and other potential difficulties. For more information on our orthopedic and sports medicine services, go here.
Is Having a Broken Bone an Emergency?
Broken bones can be painful and immobilizing. Often they are treated as urgent-care injuries – not as emergencies.
However, sometimes broken bones are considered emergencies. For example, any severe break with associated pain might qualify as an emergency. Also, breaks involving certain bones, such as the ribs, sternum, spinal column, pelvis, or skull, should be treated as emergencies based on the potential risk they represent to your health.
Remember, any medical condition of sudden onset that threatens either life or limb, if not treated immediately, is an emergency. If you have a serious bone break of any kind, go to the nearest emergency room.
What Are My Treatment Options for a Broken Bone?
If you think you have a broken bone but not an emergency, go to your primary care physician or urgent care center as soon as possible. Most fractures can be diagnosed with an imaging technology such as X-rays.
Splints or casts are the most common form of treatment. The goal is to immobilize the break to minimize the possibility of additional damage, reduce associated pain, and encourage proper alignment of the healing bone. In certain cases, traction may also be required. Recovery time is typically in the range of six to eight weeks. However, full recovery for some breaks can take as long as a year.
Making Bones Heal Faster
There are also some common ways to support a fracture’s healing process:
- Stop (or don’t start) smoking
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
- Don’t overdo your calcium intake
- Stick with your treatment plan
- Keep in touch with your medical team
Be Prepared for a Medical Emergency
In any medical crisis, it’s best to be prepared. Make sure you program all emergency numbers into your cell phone or keep a list by your telephone at home. If you believe you are experiencing a medical emergency, dial 9-1-1.
Next Steps with MyChart
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