What to do with a broken bone?

By Mount Elizabeth Hospital

A broken bone, also known as a fracture, is a common injury. If you have never experienced a fracture yourself, you probably know someone who has. Most fractures are not life threatening, but they do require immediate medical attention. Dr Andrew Dutton, orthopaedic surgeon at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, explains what to do if you or someone around you has a fracture.


Photo credit: Chuck D on Flickr

How do I know if it’s a fracture?
There are certain signs to look out for such as deformity, bruising and swelling, tenderness and an inability to walk (for lower limb fractures). If you suspect a fracture, seek immediate medical care. 

How can I provide first-aid help?
In general, if there is an injury to the upper limb (arm, shoulder, elbow, forearm) then splinting the limb either by using an arm sling if available or wrapping the arm against the torso will immobilise the limb. This prevents further deformity and pain. 

Icing will help decrease the swelling and discomfort. If the injury involves the forearm, wrist or hand then splinting it using a flat wooden board is sufficient.

For injury to the lower limb (leg, knee, foot, ankle), the patient should not walk but rather limp or use crutches if available. Limb elevation and splinting the limb to a wooden board, if available, is useful. Icing will prevent too much swelling and pain.


Photo credit: Photocapy on Flickr

How can doctors treat a fracture? 
The doctor will first assess the patient by clinical examination to ensure that there are no secondary injuries to the nerves or blood vessels.

X-rays can be done to diagnose a fracture, but if the films are not clear then the doctor may order an MRI scan. X-rays are quicker and easier to do at the initial assessment.

Factors such as displacement, angulation and fracture stability can be determined after seeing the x-ray or MRI.

Depending on these factors, the fractured limb may be splinted with a half cast or brace. Once the swelling reduces, the limb may require full casting. For foot or ankle injuries, a special immobilisation boot can be used.

Fracture healing is usually 6 – 8 weeks for upper limb fractures and 8 – 12 weeks for lower limb fractures.

The doctor will often order intermittent x-rays to ensure that the fracture heals in an adequate position.

If the fracture is significantly displaced or angulated then surgery may be required. Metal pins, plates or screws may be required to fix the fracture.

After surgery, early movement of the limb is often instituted to prevent stiffness.


Photo credit: Peter Stevens on Flickr

What measures should I take to heal quickly?
Adhering to the doctor’s treatment instructions is essential. Keep the limb immobilised and use crutches for the required amount of time. If a patient does not comply, there may be fracture displacement or slower healing.

Minimising swelling and inflammation is important. Elevate the limb above the level of the heart and ice the injured region. The doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications to help this process.

Ensuring adequate calcium intake for bone healing is important especially as dairy is not a large part of the Asian diet. 

Calcium can be found in foods such as milk, yoghurt, broccoli, kale and bok choy. Those who are elderly may have difficulty eating sufficient calcium rich foods, thus, calcium supplements should be used.

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