Overview of Broken Bones
All broken bones are considered fractures. It doesn't matter whether it's just a little crack or a big break with lots of pieces.
Broken bones hurt a lot and cause swelling
Your bone may look bent or out of place
Broken bones sometimes damage nerves or blood vessels near the break
Doctors diagnose broken bones using x-rays, but sometimes a CT scan or MRI is helpful
Doctors move broken bones back into place and hold them there with a splint, cast, or sometimes metal pins, screws, and plates
Go to the nearest emergency department if you get hurt and have a lot of pain or swelling or if you can’t move or use the body part you injured.
Doctors use lots of terms to describe different broken bones. The terms have to do with things like:
The pieces of a broken bone are sometimes lined up pretty straight. But usually they're bent, twisted, pulled apart, or jammed together. Sometimes your bone is broken into several small pieces.
An open fracture is when the sharp end of a broken bone has poked through your skin. Often, the bone goes back in and there's just a little cut. But sometimes the bone is sticking out. An open fracture can let germs and dirt get into the broken bone and cause a bone infection. Bone infections keep your fracture from healing.
A break that goes into a joint can heal with a rough edge that can cause permanent joint pain and stiffness.
Symptoms of fractures include:
The broken bone bleeds. This can cause a bruise after a day or so.
Broken bones heal best when the two ends are touching and lined up straight. If they're not touching and lined up, doctors need to move them so that they are. This is called "reducing a fracture," or "setting the bone."
If your fracture is pushing on a blood vessel or nerve, or if it's an open fracture, doctors reduce it right away. Otherwise, doctors often wait a few days to let the swelling go down. Until then, they'll put on a splint and give you pain medicine.
After reducing the fracture, doctors need to hold the broken pieces in place so they don't move until they're done healing. To hold them in place, doctors may use
Splints and casts are made of hard material such as plaster or fiberglass. Doctors first put on some soft padding so the plaster or fiberglass doesn't scrape your skin. In a cast, the hard material wraps all the way around your arm or leg. In a splint, the hard material goes only partway around.
During surgery for a broken bone, doctors may use:
If you have an open fracture, you may also need surgery to clean dirt and germs off the ends of the broken bones.
If you have a cast, you should do the following:
Keep your cast dry while bathing—protect it with a waterproof cast cover or plastic bag (use rubber bands to seal the opening)
If the cast gets damp, dry it with a hair dryer—if it gets too wet your doctor may need to replace it
Elevate the cast when you can to lessen swelling
To protect your skin, put tape on any rough cast edges
Clean the area around your cast every day
Never put objects inside your cast
Call your doctor if you get a fever or if your cast: