Fractured bones happen often enough that you might think of them as minor injuries. But broken bones can cause serious complications like blood clots and nerve damage.
Broken bones can also take a financial toll while you recover. Displaced fractures require expensive surgery to repair the bone. And you may miss several weeks or even months of work due to your broken bones.
Read on for an overview of the causes and effects of broken bones.
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What is the Structure and Function of the Skeleton?
Your skeleton includes all of your calcified tissue. This definition excludes soft tissue like cartilage, ligaments, muscles, and tendons.
You probably have an instinct for what this includes. Your bones are the rigid scaffolding that gives your body structure and support.
Bones such as your skull, spine, pelvis, and ribs also protect your internal organs. They provide a hard shell that can absorb impacts and prevent forces from crushing your organs.
Your bones also play an important role in your immune and circulatory systems. Bone marrow sits inside your bones. Bone marrow creates blood cells, including white cells that fight infection and red cells that carry oxygen throughout your body.
As your blood cells wear out, they get filtered from the blood by your spleen and replaced with the cells from the bone marrow.
Despite being made primarily of minerals, your bones are alive. Bone cells require oxygen from the bloodstream. If you look at your bones under a microscope, they have many openings and tunnels for blood vessels. If your bone cells get cut off from your circulatory system, the bone cells will die and cause gangrene.
What Causes Broken Bones?
Bone fractures happen when you experience forces that exceed the material strength of your bones. These forces can take many different forms depending on the nature of the trauma.
The most common cause of broken bones is a bending force. Although bones can flex slightly, a powerful bending force can snap the bone. This transverse fracture can cross the entire axis of the bone or only part of the axis.
Examples of bending forces include the force of the seat belt on your sternum in a car accident or the impact of your arm on the ground after a slip and fall accident.
Twisting forces usually involve your bone getting trapped while you experience a traumatic injury. The twisting force will also cause your bone to snap, but it will form a spiral pattern.
You might experience a spiral fracture in a motorcycle accident when your foot gets trapped under your motorcycle as your body turns from the impact. A spiral fracture might also result when your limb gets caught in a machine in a workplace accident.
As your bones experience stress, they form microscopic cracks. When you rest, your body repairs the cracks, often building stronger bones than before the stress.
However, if you repeat the same motions without taking the time to rest, these cracks get worse instead of healing. Workers who perform repetitive motions, like standing, walking, carrying, and lifting, have a high risk of stress fractures due to repetitive forces.
What Are the Types of Broken Bones?
The type of broken bone will determine the treatment and prognosis for your fracture. Some types of broken bones include:
Displaced or Nondisplaced Fractures
A nondisplaced fracture happens when the bone breaks but the broken ends remain aligned. Nondisplaced fractures usually do not require surgery. Instead, doctors can immobilize the bone with a cast or brace so the bone can heal.
A displaced fracture occurs when the broken ends of the bone move out of alignment. Displaced fractures often require surgery to realign the bone. Once doctors realign the bone, they may hold it in place with plates or rods. The doctors will further protect the bone with a cast or brace until it heals.
A compound fracture happens when a broken bone displaces so far that it breaks the skin. You might even seek the bone protruding through the open wound.
Doctors treat a compound fracture with surgery. They realign the bone. Then they clean and close the wound.
A comminuted fracture is a bone that breaks into three or more pieces. This fracture often results from a crushing injury. Doctors also refer to this type of fracture as a “shattered bone.”
Doctors treat a comminuted fracture by rebuilding the fractured bone with plates and screws. If they cannot find all of the pieces, they can replace the missing pieces with a bone graft. Comminuted fractures can take a year or longer to heal.
If doctors cannot restore blood circulation to the shattered bone, they may consider amputating the crushed body part.
What Complications Can Occur from Broken Bones?
Accident victims with broken bones often experience complications such as:
Infections happen when microorganisms enter your body. As they multiply, they release toxic substances. They also compete with your cells for resources. Your cells will die as a result.
Your body reacts to infection with swelling and a fever. The swelling traps the microorganisms in the injured area, and the fever heats them enough to kill them.
Doctors treat infections with antibiotics. If they cannot control the infection, you might develop sepsis.
Broken bones heal when the body forms a blood clot over the fracture. This clot protects the fracture and holds the cells needed to repair the fracture in the injured area.
Sometimes, blood clots break off and travel through the bloodstream. If they reach your lungs, you may experience a pulmonary embolism. You will need emergency treatment to avoid lung damage or death.
When a bone displaces, it can tear nearby tissue. If it severs or stretches nearby nerves, the nerves can malfunction. They may stop carrying nerve signals or misfire, sending erroneous signals.
What Types of Compensation Can You Get for Broken Bones?
You could seek injury compensation if you suffered broken bones due to someone else’s negligence. This compensation can cover your economic losses, like medical costs and lost income, and non-economic losses, like pain and suffering.
Broken bones can keep you out of work for days or even weeks, depending on your job and injury. If you suffer a comminuted fracture, you might even need to change jobs due to permanent disabilities caused by the fracture.