For an athlete or anyone on the go, recovering from a bone break can feel like you’re under house arrest. Everything you want or need to do suddenly becomes difficult or near impossible. Until you are mended, leaving the house – or your bed – can be a pipedream. Even the most independent or fit person may need help tying their shoes, walking across the room or taking a bath. One thing is certain: when you break a bone, you need immediate medical attention. Here’s what you can do to treat a broken bone, and what to expect when you are seen by your orthopedist.
Defining Bone BreaksBreaks – also referred to as fractures – can be more or less severe. Bones not only break because of accident or injury, they can also fracture because of disease, overuse or poor diet. Some breaks are “clean,” meaning the bones can be easily realigned into place. Comminuted fractures are much more complex, with fragments, splinters and pieces that can not be aligned; these fractures usually require surgical intervention and incur long recovery periods. With open – also known as compound – fractures, the bone has broken through the skin or is exposed through a wound that resulted from the injury or accident. These breaks, too, require special care to minimize further damage or risk of infection.
Immediate Action and Medical TreatmentA broken bone or a fracture requires immediate medical attention. You can mitigate the injury by doing the following while en route to an urgent care facility –
- Examine the area. Depending on the severity of the fracture, there may be swelling, bleeding, discoloration, evident deformity, or a bone piercing through the skin or visible within the injured area. Do you best to assess the damage to be able to explain to the urgent care provider while en route. Try to take pictures of the injury to capture the extent of the damage.
- Stop the bleeding. If there is bleeding, apply pressure near the wounded area (not on the broken bone itself) using a t-shirt, towel, or whatever clean, absorbent cloth you have handy. Do you best to elevate the injury; if you feel like you are going to faint, try to position your head lower than your trunk and elevate the legs if possible to reduce risk of shock. If the fracture is not exposed, apply ice to the area to reduce swelling. Do not place ice directly on the skin, rather, wrap the ice in a towel or plastic bag. Do not place place ice in an open wound.
- Apply a splint. If you have any training, apply a splint to the area around the fracture site. You can use a magazine, tree branch, or any other firm item to immobilize your bone, using a wrap such as a shirt, belt, or bandana to secure it in place. Immobilization is best when the fracture is clean; be cautious if the break is complex or fragmented; it may be best for emergency care to come to you. Whatever you do, do not attempt to realign the bone yourself; this could result in further damage. Leave setting and casting the bone to the professionals.