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Fractures
Fractures Medical Negligence

Fractures

Fractures are an incredibly common occurrence, with one in two women and one in five men experiencing a fracture after the age of 50. But what exactly is a fracture? This article provides an overview, from how a fracture might happen, as well as the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.

What Is A Fracture?

A fracture can be defined as a break or a crack in the bone, and can affect any bone in the body. While it is usually the consequence of a significant amount of force upon the bone, such as a bad fall or an accident, a fracture can occur in a number of different ways. These include repeated stress and strains upon a bone (a stress fracture), bones already weakened by illness such as osteoporosis (a pathological fracture), and fractures that only occur in children due to the elasticity of their bones (greenstick fracture).

All fractures can be put into two categories. A simple (or closed) fracture is when the bone breaks cleanly, leaving no damage to the surrounding tissue or skin. In contrast, a compound (or open) fracture is when the surrounding soft tissue and skin does suffer a degree of damage. This type of fracture is considered more serious, as the risk of developing infection is greatly increased.

Symptoms of Fractures

The symptoms of a fracture vary depending on which bone is injured and the type of fracture sustained, but generally include:-

  • Pain and swelling;
  • Bruising or discoloured skin around the bone or joint;
  • The limb or affected area of the body is bent at an unusual angle (known as angulation);
  • The inability to move or put weight upon the injured part of the body;
  • A grinding or grating sensation at the site of injury (known as crepitus).

Diagnosis and Treatment of Fractures

If a patient presents with these symptoms, a doctor is likely to suspect a fracture has occurred and order an X-ray to confirm the diagnosis. Occasionally a series of X-rays, or even a CT or MRI scan, will be needed to assess the fracture in more detail.

Once a fracture is identified, then treatment will begin with the realignment of the bone. This is known as fracture reduction and will involve the manipulation of the bone back into position by pulling the bone fragments, either with or without surgery.

When realigned, the ends of the broken bones will need to be held in position to allow them to heal. This is known as immobilisation, and can include the use of plaster casts, braces, metal plates and screws, internal steel rods, and external fixators (metal or carbon fibre structures which have steel pins that pass into the bone directly through the skin to hold the bones in place.)

While immobilisation usually lasts for between two to eight weeks, the time it takes for a fracture to fully heal depends upon the age of the patient, the type of fracture and the site of injury. In some cases, fractures will be very slow to heal and will require additional treatment, from physiotherapy to help build strength and muscle, to plastic surgery, ultrasound therapy, or a bone graft in the most serious cases.

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