Handling Broken Bones: Diagnosis, Treatment

Fractures and how they are stabilized
woman with her arm in a cast

Most people don’t go around thinking about their bones. That is, until one breaks.

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Typically, fractures (broken bones) heal fairly well. But what about bones that are shattered in multiple places? Or fractures that won’t heal? Or — worst of all — traumatic breaks that tear the skin?

“Trauma is hard because no one plans on it,” says orthopaedic surgeon Damien Billow, MD, who practices at Hillcrest hospital, a Cleveland Clinic hospital. “When someone does experience trauma, I work with them to move past their difficulty.”

After a fall or trauma, you should suspect a bone break if you have deformity, such as a limb looking out of place or part of a bone puncturing through the skin. Also, check for swelling, tenderness and bruising.

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How broken bones are stabilized

Treatment for broken bones involves putting pieces back into proper position and stabilizing them until they heal. Stabilizing the bones may be achieved with casts, braces or surgery.

Occasionally, surgery is required. Surgical procedures may include:

  • External fixation, which involves placing metal pins or screws into bone above and below the fracture site. The pins or screws are connected to a metal bar outside the skin, which stabilizes the bones until they heal.
  • Open reduction and internal fixation, which is more common and involves repositioning bone fragments into normal alignment and keeping them in place with special screws, metal plates or rods under the skin.

Occasionally, broken bones do not heal correctly making it necessary for orthopaedic surgeons to perform procedures to correct previous surgeries that have failed.

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Of course, the best treatment for your bones is prevention, says Dr. Billow. “By doing weight-bearing exercises and eating a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, you can build up your bone strength and help prevent some fractures,” he says.

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