People break bones in all kinds of ways, from the crunch of a sports injury to an accidental fall. Bones are strong and even have some give to them, but certainly have their limits as well. Diseases like cancer and osteoporosis can also lead to breaks because they make your bones weaker and more fragile.
Bones: What Kind Of Break?
Doctors talk about broken bones, also called fractures, with a few basic terms:
- Open or closed? Closed, or simple, fractures don’t break through the skin. Open, or compound, ones do
- Partial or complete? Partial breaks don’t go all the way through the bone. Complete breaks mean the bone is in two or more pieces
- Displaced or non-displaced? If the broken pieces still line up, it’s a non-displaced break. If they don’t, it’s displaced
Bones: Types of Fractures
Common types of breaks include:
- Transverse: breaks straight across the bone
- Stress fracture: a very thin crack, also called a hairline fracture
- Oblique: breaks at an angle
- Greenstick: breaks on one side, but bends on the other–like a fresh stick from a tree
- Comminuted: bone breaks into three or more pieces
Other fracture types also include:
- a compression fracture, which often occurs in the spine
- Spiral fractures and avulsion fractures, when a tendon or ligament pulls off a piece of bone.
Sometimes, kids get small fractures and don’t even know it. Other times, your body may be in shock so you don’t feel anything at all, at first. But usually a broken bone will mean a deep, intense ache as well as sharp pain.
Bones Broken: Symptoms
Aside from pain, your body rings alarms to tell you something’s wrong. You can feel chilly, dizzy, or woozy. You also, might even pass out. Around the break itself, you will notice:
You may not be able to use that body part or can see that the bone doesn’t look right, like it’s bent at an odd angle.
Bones Repair: Step 2
Over the next 4-21 days, you get a soft callus around the broken bone. This is when a substance called collagen moves in and slowly replaces the blood clot. The callus is stiffer than a clot, but not as strong as bone. That’s part of the reason you get a cast as it holds the healing bone in place. If it moved, the soft callus could break and set back your recovery.
Bones Repair: Step 3
Cells called osteoblasts move in about 2 weeks after the break. They form new bone by adding minerals to the mix to make the bone strong as it bridges the broken pieces. This stage is called the hard callus. It usually ends 6-12 weeks after the break.
Bones Repair: Step 4
Now you’re in the homestretch: bone remodeling. Here, cells called osteoclasts do some fine-tuning. They break down any extra bone that formed during healing so your bones get back to their regular shape. When you reach this stage, returning to your normal activities actually helps you heal. This step may continue long after you feel better, sometimes lasting up to 9 years!
Bones: Treatment for Basic Breaks
Treatment for any break comes down to three basic steps:
- Line up the bone in the right place
- Prevent moving it until it’s healed
- Manage the pain.
For a basic break, your doctor will set the bone back into place. Thereafter, you receive a splint, brace, or cast to support your bone and keep it from moving.
Treatment for Complex Breaks
For more severe breaks, you may need surgery. As necessary, the surgeon will put in screws, pins, rods, or plates to hold the bones in place so they can heal correctly. Moreover, for severe breaks, you may need traction, a system of pulleys and weights around your hospital bed that hold your bones in the right position.
Bones Recovery: Weeks 1-2
An average recovery takes 6-8 weeks but can vary based on the bone, type of break, your age, and your overall health. During the first couple of weeks, you’ll need patience and good old-fashioned self-care. This is where you set the stage for healing. Follow instructions closely and:
- Don’t smoke.
- Do any exercises your doctor recommends
- Eat a healthy diet
- Rest the broken bone as much as possible
Bones Recovery: Weeks 3-5
Your cast is critical for healing, but after just a few weeks without movement, your muscles get weak and stiff. This is often the time when you begin some very basic exercises or early physical therapy. It helps ease stiffness, build muscle, and break down scar tissue. You also move this part of your body that’s been in pain for a while.
Bones Recovery: Weeks 6-8
The cast comes off around this time. You will notice:
- Body hair that’s darker than usual
- Skin that’s pale or flaky
- The body part you broke looks smaller as it has less muscle
Physical therapy and a return to a regular schedule will strengthen the bone.
Bones: Call For Medical Attention, If
- Bluish color to your skin
- Can’t move your fingers or toes
- Pain doesn’t get better
- Problems with your cast, like it cracks or feels too tight or too loose
- Signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, or discharge that smells bad
- Tingling, numbness, pins and needles, or other odd feelings
Watch this video on broken bones being put together: