Almost everyone suffers a broken bone in their lifetime. About half of Americans break a bone before age 65, and the risk of breaking a bone goes up as osteoporosis sets in.
At the same time, bone fractures are not minor injuries. They can require extensive treatment and therapy to heal correctly. They can also produce complications that can cause long-term symptoms.
Read on to learn about broken bones and how they can affect a personal injury claim.
What is the Structure and Function of Your Bones?
Your bones provide the framework that supports your body and gives your body structure. Without your bones, you could never hold up your weight.
Your bones differ from other structures in your musculoskeletal system because they form through ossification. Your bones build strength and rigidity by collecting minerals like calcium and phosphorus.
Even with their high mineral content, your bone cells are alive. They require oxygen from your blood to live and grow. As a result, blood vessels run throughout your bones.
The bones also play a role in your circulatory system. The bone marrow inside your bones produces new blood cells. The small blood vessels that feed your bones also pick up new blood cells to replace old cells filtered by the spleen.
What Causes Broken Bones?
Bones fracture when subjected to forces that exceed their structural strength. The force applied to the bones can determine the shape of the break.
A transverse fracture across the short axis of the bone usually results from a bending force. As the bone bends, it often snaps in a clean line.
A spiral fracture can result from a twisting force. As the ends of the bone rotate, the bone fractures in a spiral around its surface.
A crushing force can cause a comminuted fracture. Also called a shattered bone, a comminuted fracture leaves the bone in at least three pieces. Doctors must rebuild the bone with plates and screws for it to heal. A comminuted fracture can take at least a year to heal fully.
Tension on a ligament or tendon can cause an avulsion fracture. In this type of fracture, the tendon or ligament breaks away from a bone and pulls a small fragment of bone with it. Doctors can often immobilize the injury without surgery so the fracture can heal correctly.
Repetitive stress can fracture a bone. Normally, bones heal from the wear and tear with rest. But if you cannot rest and instead repeat the same motions over and over, a small crack can turn into a stress fracture.
How Do You Treat Broken Bones?
Broken bones take three typical forms, with treatment varying based on the form.
In a non-displaced fracture, the broken ends of the bone remain aligned. Doctors will immobilize the broken bone with a cast or brace to treat the fracture. Since the ends remain aligned, doctors only need to protect the fracture from any stress that could re-fracture it or push the end apart.
Closed Displaced Fracture
In a closed displaced fracture, the broken ends of the bone are not aligned. But the skin remains intact.
The doctor must bring the broken ends back into alignment. The doctor manipulates the bone into alignment without surgery in a closed reduction. This option causes considerable pain but avoids the risks of surgery.
If closed reduction does not work, the doctor can use open reduction. In open reduction, the doctor creates an incision to access the fractured bone. The doctor sets the bone and secures it with plates or rods and screws.
After setting the broken bone, doctors immobilize it with a cast or brace. This holds the bone in place and protects it as it heals.
Open Displaced Fracture
In an open displaced fracture, the ends of the broken bone have moved so far out of alignment that they have broken the skin. This produces an open wound to accompany the fractured bone. Doctors also call an open displaced fracture a “compound fracture.”
Treatment for an open displaced fracture requires the doctor to set the bone. Since the bone has already created an open wound, doctors often use open reduction to set and secure the bone.
Doctors then clean the wound and close it. Finally, doctors immobilize the bone with a cast or brace.
What Complications Can Arise from Broken Bones?
Broken bones can cause complications, including:
Infections happen when microorganisms enter your body through a contaminated wound. Open fractures pose a high risk of infections.
If bacteria enter your bones, you can develop osteomyelitis. This bone infection can kill bone cells if left untreated.
Compartment syndrome happens when swelling cuts off your circulation. Tissue cut off from its blood supply can die.
The broken ends of a bone can stretch or sever nerves when they displace. Severed nerves cannot carry a nerve signal. As a result, you will experience at least partial paralysis and loss of sensation in the area.
Stretched nerves can misfire, causing pain and muscle spasms. They can also drop nerve signals, leading to loss of dexterity and muscle weakness.
While healing from a broken bone, the body forms a blood clot over the fracture. This clot protects the fracture and holds the repair cells at the injury site.
Occasionally, a piece of the clot breaks off. If it travels to the lungs, it can get caught in the small blood vessels and cause a pulmonary embolism. If this happens, you will struggle to breathe and require emergency treatment to break up the clot.
How Do You Receive Injury Compensation for a Broken Bone?
You can seek injury compensation for broken bones caused by someone else’s negligence. To prove negligence, you must show that the person or business failed to exercise reasonable care. A distracted driver who causes a car accident has failed to exercise reasonable care.
If you prove negligence, you can seek damages, including compensation for medical bills, lost income, pain, and suffering.
Broken bones might keep you out of work for weeks or even months, depending on your job. They can also permanently disable you, substantially impacting your earning capacity.