Gregory Sirounian, MD, is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon at Banner Estrella Medical Center.
Question: This is my first broken bone. What can I expect?
Answer: Broken bones, or fractures, are becoming more common as people live longer. A fracture can result from a major accident or simple fall. Certain medical conditions, such as osteoporosis, medications and poor nutrition, can lead to weakening of bones and increase a person’s risk of fracture.
Some fractures need urgent attention, and this can only be determined by a qualified health care provider. Evaluation at a local emergency room, urgent care center or doctor’s office is important. Diagnosis requires proper x-rays or other non-invasive tests. Initial management involves immobilization, elevation, and icing, to reduce pain and swelling. Anti-inflammatory and pain medications are often helpful. More severe injuries may require immediate surgery if there are associated open wounds or damage to major nerves or blood vessels.
Most broken bones heal naturally, within two or three months of injury, but protection is usually needed. Treatment options depend on many factors—namely, the nature of the injury and age, activity level, health, and concerns of the patient. Most fractures can be managed without surgery, using splints, casts, bracing, or sling immobilization, until sufficient healing occurs.
Some fractures may shift out of alignment or be slow to heal, necessitating surgery, in order to optimize outcome. Methods of surgical fixation include placement of metal pins, plates, screws, or rods, to hold bones in proper alignment while they heal. More severely-injured and slow-healing bones sometimes benefit from implantation of internal, biological materials or application of small, external, electromagnetic or ultrasonic devices (bone stimulators.)
While specific treatments may vary from patient to patient, the goals remain the same—bone healing and restoration of function. Fractures can cause significant pain, disability, and financial burden. Thus, there is an increasing emphasis on musculoskeletal health in this country, including more advanced methods of injury prevention and treatment.